Here are my reviews of two short stories written by Rhonda Hopkins, an avid reader and prolific reviewer as well as being a valued IASD member and contributor. Having already read and enjoyed ‘The Consuming’ I knew I was on safe ground taking advantage of the free download of ‘Survival’ (though it has now reverted to its original price. Having said that, both are free to read if you have Kindle Unlimited).
Amazon Description: Survival: Survival Series Prequel
When Sarah escapes from her brutal abductors, she promises to return to rescue her twin sister, but with the walking dead invading Fort Worth, TX, she is forced to rely on a competitive coworker who made her work life hell for years. With her coworker weakened by cancer treatments, her sister still imprisoned, and zombies looking for an easy meal, Sarah’s only plan, if she can pull it off, is Survival.
SURVIVAL is a 14,000 word (approx. 45 pages) short story and was originally published in the Let’s Scare Cancer to Death anthology.
I haven’t read all that much in the Zombie genre so I can’t say how this compares with similarly themed stories but it certainly sets off at a cracking pace with the fight for survival starting right from the opening sentence almost; it was a nice touch that the initial ‘survival’ efforts were quite unrelated to the Zombie apocalypse occurring. It’s probably premature to make comparisons but the opening scene could easily be one straight out of the hit tv series ‘The Walking Dead,’ though the cover does invite such comparisons, which given its current popularity, I’m not sure is such a good thing.
Although it would read quite well as a stand-alone story, I’m glad the author indicates there will be future instalments thus hopefully allowing the reader to explore the characters in greater depth. It’s impossible to tell what direction the story will take in the future but the story has been written in such a way as to leave open all manner of possibilities and a yearning to know the hows and whys of the current situation the characters have found themselves plunged into.
Amazon Description: The Consuming
Serena knows her late uncle wasn’t crazy. So when she inherits his sprawling Carolina mansion and leaves the big city to restore both his home and his name, she uncovers a mystery that could cost much more than her sanity. As the house slowly reveals its dark secrets, and the extent of her peril becomes evident, she’ll settle for escaping with her life—if it isn’t already too late.
A supposedly haunted dilapidated old house you’ve just inherited, the sudden death of an uncle you haven’t seen since childhood, rumours of madness, the locals refusing to go near the place, and a psychic best friend who warns you not to go near the place … It’s hard to say too much about a short story without giving too much away but here we have all the ingredients of a spooky little ghost story, the sort that would make for a great episode of Hammer’s House of Horror. I liked the author’s style of writing, hints of a modern Edgar Allen Poe but obviously more current and without overdoing the gothic atmosphere, striking just the right balance at the beginning between outward normality while feeling and knowing something’s not quite right. Sometimes a short story will leave too many unanswered questions but in one such as this, a bit of mystery left to the imagination just adds to its enjoyment.
Taking just under an hour to read, this is the perfect story if you like a little mystery and the supernatural in your reading but aren’t in the mood to take on the challenge of a full-length novel. Personally, I would have preferred this to be a little longer, perhaps with more involvement of the psychic friend but overall a fine short story that horror fans will appreciate.
“The Consuming by Rhonda Hopkins is the literary version of what films like Paranormal Activity tried to be. This has the bumps in the night flying off the page.” ~~ TW Brown, Author of the Dead, and the Zomblog series.
“The Consuming is a wonderful, chilling tale that leaves you listening too hard in the quiet of a dark night, and jumping at shadows in mirrors. Definitely looking forward to more from Ms. Hopkins.” ~~ Stacey Joy Netzel, USA Today Bestselling author of Beneath Still Waters and Lost in Italy.
“The Consuming by Rhonda Hopkins is the perfect example of gothic horror…” ~~ Jennette Marie Powell, Author of Hangar 18: Legacy and the Saturn Society series.
“…Rhonda Hopkins’ The Consuming had me turning on all the lights in the house and checking behind doors.” ~~ Stacy Green, Author of Into the Dark and Tin God (A Delta Crossroads Mystery).
“…This tale will give you shivers up your spine, make you take second glances in mirrors…Superb!” ~~ Penelope Anne Bartotto, The Library at the End of the Universe.
More about the author:
Award-winning romantic suspense and horror author, Rhonda Hopkins, has learned firsthand that truth is stranger than fiction. Her two decades of experience as an investigator for her state and family courts give her characters a depth and realism that gives truth a run for its money. In addition to stories published under her own name, Rhonda Hopkins has also contributed stories to a number of other multi-author anthologies. You can find out more about Rhonda at:
See also Rhonds Hopkins’ Amazon Author page for all the author’s books
Tom Benson is a multi-genre author and artist whose work I’ve reviewed several times since first discovering his writing on his wordpress site (see link below).
In 1969 at the age of 17, Tom left his native Glasgow to join the British Army. Tom’s military career spanned from 1969 to 1992. He followed this with a career in Retail Management, in which he was employed from 1992 to 2012.
Tom is a prolific writer and book reviewer and has been writing since 2007. He has published seven novels, five anthologies of short stories, a five-part novel, a five-part series of erotica novellas, and a series of five anthologies of genre-based poetry. In addition to his own writing, Tom Benson has contributed short stories to several other multi-author anthologies both commercially and in aid of various charities.
Tom is presently working on a number of other projects including helping manage and promote an international collection of indie authors on the indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com website which he helped create.
A collection of 12 stories created using a wide spectrum of scenarios. Military experiences can be funny, heart-breaking and, everything in between.
This anthology is a blend of my personal experience and knowledge together with specially created pieces to highlight the highs and lows of service life.
These tales can be enjoyed equally by those who have served and, those who have never donned a uniform.
Humour, fact, fiction, and fantasy are used to portray service in theatres as varied as Vietnam, Northern Ireland, Ancient Briton, the Persian Gulf, Africa, and elsewhere.
By Tom Benson
(Available as an eBook from Amazon – click on above title for link)
Of all the short story collections the author has written this is by far and away my favourite. Tom Benson has drawn on both his imagination and his considerable length of service to craft a poignant collection of short stories across a variety of military theatres. Unusually for a short story collection, not a single story here disappointed or fell even slightly below the high standard of every other.
Throughout this collection, Tom Benson has applied meticulous attention to authentic military detail but not to the point of overkill as to confuse the non-military reader. As anyone who has served will know, the army and other services practically speak another language with all the acronyms, slang and other assorted colourful phrases, but the author’s clever use of dialogue and context give all the slang and military terminology clear and obvious meaning thus ensuring the non-military is never left confused or wondering at certain words.
The opening story is a real ‘lump in the throat’ one of courage and self-sacrifice but it is immediately contrasted by the side-splittingly funny satire of the second, one that any military wife (or husband for that matter) will immediately identify with but its razor-sharp humour it cannot help but appeal to all. In the third, the author takes a somewhat personal trip down memory lane in a way that we can all relate to from some time in our lives when we were determined to prove our doubters wrong. Others in the collection highlight much of the military ethos of courage and protecting the weak and vulnerable but still providing the reader with a captivating story, and in the case of Photographic Memory, a real ‘punch the air feel good factor. In The Odd Couple we get a glimpse into some of the more covert activities of ‘The Toubles,’ bringing back painful memories for some of real events that mirror some aspects of the story. Another thing I liked about this collection was its sheer variety; from modern-day Afghanistan and Northern Ireland right back to the 2nd Century, from Jungle warfare to covert missions in the desert, from the sadness of a family torn apart from being on opposite sites to the sort of comradeship that transcends family that can only be formed with those you would die for and they for you. One story that is particularly pertinent to modern times is that of Walking Wounded; with today’s modern medicine and better field facilities, many more servicemen and women are surviving the sort of injuries only a few decades ago would have spelt certain death. The downside to this, of course, is that we have a whole generation of soldiers returning from conflicts having to face and cope with life-changing disabilities, and it is easy to understand the increased cases of PTSD in many such people. In the Walking Wounded we see the beginnings of one such man’s journey in finding a reason to look to the future with some hope, and with an unusually heart-warming twist too.
In ‘The Afterlife’ the author once again uses mostly his personal experience to round off the collection, giving the reader some brief comparisons of his life since leaving the army with that of a younger man who has never served and through it we see just why so many ex-servicemen refer to themselves as such rather than simply accepting their post-service ‘civilian’ status.
Overall, a thoroughly entertaining collection that will not only entertain but give the non-military reader some rare insights into military service. For others, again it will entertain but also bring back memories, some good, others not so maybe, but if nothing else, for me personally they remind me how very much I have to be thankful for still being in a position to read such stories when so many others are not.
For further links to Tom’s many other books please visit his Amazon author page by clicking on the link below:
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Tony McNally served in the British army as a Royal Artillery Gunner. At 19 years old he was sent to fight in the Falklands War as a Rapier missile operator where he shot down two enemy jet aircraft. After serving in Northern Ireland he left the forces and was diagnosed with PTSD (Post traumatic Stress Disorder) and told to go away and write down his thoughts and feelings.
This lead to him writing his No1 best selling book Watching Men Burn. He now lives in the tranquil English Lake district with his wife Linda and their two Labrador dogs, where he continues to write, especially poetry, which he finds very therapeutic and helpful with his PTSD. His other interests are Rugby League and enjoying his family. He has now published his page turning new book of Trauma poetry and a short story about World War One titled Screaming In Silence as reviewed below, and is working on his first eagerly anticipated military thriller fiction novel about terrorism and the Special Forces.
For further links to the author’s writting see:
Author website: www.tonymcnally.co.uk/
Tony McNally is a Falklands War veteran and the best selling author of Watching Men Burn. A tireless campaigner for better understanding and treatment of servicemen and women suffering from mental health problems like PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
After leaving the forces he was diagnosed with PTSD by a civilian doctor and was at first unable to talk about his War time experiences, he was told to go home and try and write down his thoughts and feelings. He soon realized that writing was therapeutic and began to write poetry and short stories, Screaming in Silence is his first book of poetry and a short story about the First World War. Written from the heart this is a powerful collection of works that can only be written by someone that has experienced the brutality of War and mans inhumanity, which is apparent with his colorful and brutal and then at times beautiful, poignant and gentle words. He covers a wide range of subject matter, Politics, murder, homelessness, divorce, Religion and obviously War, McNally hits the readers with the ferocity of an exploding grenade then the gentleness of a poppy petal blowing gracefully in the summer breeze.
By Tony McNally
(Available from Amazon in eBook & Print formats)
.As accurate an insight into the mental trauma of front-line service you can get short of actually suffering it yourself…, 12 Jun. 2016 – By Rudders
There are many books and websites that describe and address PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, from a clinical or diagnosis perspective but none that bring home the true reality and potentially devastating long-term effects more effectively than the words and thoughts here of someone with personal experience of it. Screaming In Silence is a collection of poetry high-lighting the grim reality and after-effects of being on the frontline of modern warfare. With over a hundred poems here the author covers every aspect of his personal experiences in both ‘The Troubles’ of Northern Ireland and the much shorter but equally violent and horrific conflict of the Falklands War. There is also a very personal introduction outlining the author’s childhood, early training experiences as a sixteen year old ‘boy soldier’ recruit in the British army, and his subsequent marriage break-ups and suicide attempts, all of which hints at and sets the tone for the poignant poetry to follow. In this introduction Tony McNally also emphasises, almost apologetically, that he is not a professional writer, that his reasons for writing this collection was to help him and others deal with their war-related PTSD. There are a few grammar and typo issues in the introduction but beyond that the quality of writing in the poetry is nothing short of superb.
The poems here are relatively short but every word is carefully chosen to convey the author’s feelings and thoughts, snapshots as it were of his experiences. Tony McNally doesn’t choose his words to contrive a consistent succession of rhymes simply to entertain or produce what we expect from more traditional poetry, but those which most aptly portray his feelings and what he’s trying to say. In some of his poems there is a prose style to relate a story such as in ‘Sticks and Stones’ where he tells of being a six-year-old boy with a pretend gun to a cadet with a rifle, and then from firing a Howitzer at sixteen to shooting down an enemy plane with a missile at nineteen, to finally looking back on being a little boy again. Some also reflect on his and others’ post army careers, alluding in once instance to the contrast between the pride of being a British soldier only to find oneself homeless or in a prison cell for shooting the enemy, an indirect reference to the highly publicised and controversial case of Marine ‘A’ now serving a prison sentence for a supposed war crime. In others he pays poignant and humbling tribute to the fallen of such conflicts. In parts there is understandable regret and bitterness about his experiences, condemning both governments, politicians, and religion for the needless loss of life, as well as the lack of care and treatment of those who return home from such conflicts, often ill-equipped to cope with the trauma they’ve suffered or the transition to civilian life. In contrast to the poems the author concludes his book with a moving and tragic short story about a young man serving at the front during the First World War.
If I were to compare Tony McNally to any of the more historically well-known poets it would have to be Wilfred Owen rather than the more romanticised works of Robert Brooke, perhaps not in style or technique but certainly for impact; and of the more current war poets, some of the poems compare with the more prose style of Tom Benson’s equally emotive collection Military Matters.
For those who have served, particularly in the same theatres of war as the author this collection will no doubt be a difficult read, likely bringing back painful memories of their own experiences. Despite this warning I have no hesitation in recommending it; in his writing the author has confronted and come to terms with many of the demons that form an integral part of his own PTSD, and if his words help others do the same I can only applaud the author on producing such a thoughtful, powerful, and well-written collection here.
Felipe Adan Lerma is a prolific author, having written numerous books in a number of genres ranging from short thrillers, as reviewed here, to poetry, photography, travel, and many more. He is also a prolific book reviewer, contributing to a number of online Indie author review and writing groups as well as offering help and advice whenever and wherever he can. On a personal note he has also proved to be an invaluable and valued member of my Indie Author Support & Discussion Fb group and website of the same name, having blogged a number of posts in support of the IASD anthology You’re Not Alone in support of the cancer charity, Macmillan Nurses.
Click IASD thumbnail for website: Click thumbnail for Felipe’s blog post.
Click on thumbnail for link to Blog Review:
Part of a series of short stories, Texas Shorts.
“Dirty Sixth Street, Austin”
This short story is a first of several shorts.
My first story that takes six of my cast of characters in my fiction, the young cousins traveling and hanging around with each other, down into one of Austin’s most well known party streets.
Another first, is their involvement in a minor, but nevertheless, scary crime.
And a mystery, also of a sorts.
Besides the six children, Antone, Cherise, Simone, Tabitha, Buzz, and Zilker, two new characters, from Vermont, are introduced. Sam (Samantha) and her brother Matt. They’re adults. 🙂
Dirty Sixth Street, Austin
By Felipe Adan Lerma
(Available from Amazon in eBook format)
Nice little thriller … Moves along at a cracking and entertaining pace. By Rudders on January 10, 2016
Another short thriller from Felipe Adan Lerma but again one that packs a lot more into it than the relatively short word count would suggest. In his writing, the author strips away every superfluous word of needless padding, once again putting me in mind of Hemmingway. What’s left is a short hard-hitting thriller that moves along at a cracking and entertaining pace.
For a short story there are more than the usual two or the three characters, in this case there being six young cousins as well as police officer and child advocate Sam (Samantha) and her geeky brother Matt. At a little under eight thousand words the author manages well to bring to life the settings and busy atmosphere in which the story unfolds. The central character, Sam, is visiting Austin, Texas, to attend a law enforcement conference and job interview. Right from the start there are hints at Sam’s background, and some of the traumatic events she’s witnessed in the past. To relax and get away from things, she goes for walk in the evening along the busy Sixth Street. During that walk she encounters a group of six children of varying ages, the youngest being a boy of about eight who happens to be crying at the time. It turns out there have been a recent spate of robberies, one of which involves the children; being a police officer, and one particularly interested on the effects of crime on children, she sets about her own investigations, getting to know the children better along the way.
Another aspect of the author’s writing that impresses is the authentic characterisation and dialogue of the children and their interation with the adult police officer, Sam; quite often when writing children’s dialaogue, it can be difficult to get it just right or believable but the author succeeds in this area better than most, especially given the varying ages of the children in the story, a testament possibly to the author’s own extensive family background and interaction with his own children and grand children. The writing is actually quite enchanting, and though a thriller that doesn’t shy away from reality and the criminal undertones of the story, it does not rely on excessive violence, making it a suitable story for reading across most age groups and tastes.
An engaging and quick read, and one that will particularly appeal to fans of the crime, thriller, and short story genres. I won’t say more other than that as well as enjoying the story you may feel the urge to eat a spicy taco too… Why? You’ll have to read ther story to discover that ….
Born and raised in Texas, and now a young senior living in Vermont, his wife Sheila’s home state, Adan brings a gentle infusion of yoga and fitness to bear on life long interests in writing, painting, dance, photography, and the arts in general.
Determined to learn about the ideas of Western Culture that have informed our civilization, Adan put himself through college with the help of his GI Bill benefits. More recently, he has added certifications in fitness and yoga.
His self stated mission on his website, reads, “a Beginner’s View : Integrating Yoga Fitness and the Arts.”.
NEW: Over 50 titles available FREE in Kindle Unlimited.
Fiction, photography, poetry. Family, mystery, and (new) thriller fiction. Set in Austin Texas, Paris, and Vermont.
Images and poetry from all three locations.
Further links to the authors numerous novels and poetry collections can be found at:
Felipe Adan Lerma’s Amazon Author page
And lastly, a few words from Felipe Adan Lerma himself …
As the oldest of six, a father of three, and a grandfather of five, and married over thirty years, I believe, in writing stories and poems, I’ve found a perfect outlet for my years of living.
I have been writing and creating pictures since high school in the sixties, and began writing more seriously in the late 70s and early 80s.
One of my more recent surprises has been to read a definition of Romance that seems to generally fit the majority of both my poetry and fiction: a central story involving the relationship of two people, and a generally optimistic and satisfying ending.
With that revelation, I now view Romance fiction in a whole new light. 😉
But if I had to give one word about most of my fiction and poetry, and even my images, it’s relationships.
The interactions of people, especially couples and among family, seem to have the strongest hold on me. That would also help explain why even in my poetry about teachers and nurses and others, it is the relationship aspect that usually is my focus.
The Processing my Fiction series on my site has more detailed specific articles that might be of interest.
I hope you can take advantage of the half dozen or so titles I offer free for downloads, and will also consider and enjoy my other work. Thanks so much!
Felipe Adan Lerma
Stephen J. Carter is not one of my Fb IndieAuthor group members this time (yet) but one I discovered via Twitter. He is a Canadian writer living in Mai, Thailand, who spends much of his time travelling in Thailand and Malaysia, and the rest of it travelling in the world of his imagination. Bangkok Z is book one of a two book series (so far, a third is in the offing for later this year). I must admit this story left a few too many questions unanswered for me but intrigued me enough to prompt me into reading part two in the series to see if they would be answered, and so my review is partly written with hindsight of what follows in the second part of the series. A review of the the sequel will feature here in the very near future…
As you will see from the following review I’ve prefaced it with the author’s own Amazon blurb; it’s often a dilemma as to how much plot detail to include in a review without giving too much away or simply repeating what the author has already said. In the case of an Amazon review, not to include such detail doesn’t present a problem generally as anyone reading the reviews are already likely to have read the the said blurb, but with a blog review it’s likely this will be the first time the reader has even heard of the featured book hence my inclusion of the blurb here…
Further links to Stephen J. Carter’s writing can be found at:
In a bleary-eyed state of shock Toey Cholwasa and three friends arrive back in Bangkok, a city engulfed by a zombie plague, a choking miasma of flesh rotting in the tropical heat. As their Airbus lands Toey witnesses another in a rolling series of mass turnings. A freshly-risen horde throws itself at the still-moving plane, and gets plowed under … leaving a blood-trail of body parts in the plane’s wake.
It would have been a mercy if the plague had merely killed its victims. Zombie death would be the least of its effects. As a researcher in consciousness and trance states Toey is one of the few equipped to piece together what the zombie rules of engagement will have to be. Failing this, the fallout from such a fight won’t bear thinking of.
The new airport they pass through is a morning-after war zone, an arena of death playing host to lifers (survivors), infected, the dead, and the newly-undead. Later, the silent city they pass through echoes with the screams of the infected who died there only hours earlier. Most of those have not yet turned. But as new convulsions wrack the city they realize they’re in the opening skirmishes of an undead global war.
The struggle begins.
(Bangkok Z – Zombie War Book 1)
By Stephen J. Carter
(Available from Amazon in eBook format)
Set against the intriguing backdrop of the far east, this zombie themed novella quite literally lands you in the action and mayhem of a post pandemic zombie apocalypse right from the start. The action is fast paced and constantly driven forward by good use of dialogue interspaced with just the right balance of narrative to allow the wider story to emerge. As with most short stories and novellas the number of characters is kept to a minimum thus allowing the first person perspective to work well here. Rather than trying to convey a conventional self-contained story within the constraints of a novella, what we have here is more an isolated snapshot of events as four friends do the best they can to cope and survive amid the surreal circumstances they suddenly find themselves. There are few clues as to what might have brought about the pandemic and the emergence of the zombies but there are hints that they may be able to gather more information in the future, allowing the reader’s imagination to go into overdrive.
This is quite an original take on the zombie theme, and one that doesn’t rely on gory detail for its impact. There’s enough going on both action and plot wise to keep the reader hooked. The story also features strong female characters as opposed to the usual lead macho man. Were this a stand-alone novella I would say it leaves too many unanswered questions, hinting at the characters’ pasts without giving the reader enough to even speculate on them. Thankfully that isn’t the case, being part one of a two part series. As a stand-alone story I would give this a four star rating for the reasons I’ve mentioned, but having read the second part I was pleased to see a lot of the wider story emerge, so for that reason and for the enjoyment value it gets a well-deserved five stars.
Books by Stephen J. Carter: click on thumbnails for Amazon links…
It’s been ages since I last posted a short story here, what with launching my debut anthology, book reviews, and updating the book listing site for my Indie author review group, but I’ve finally managed to take some time out for another retribution themed tale, my favourite genre alongside humour – it’s a bit on the dark side, and crosses over into some rather controversial subject matter. As a writer I think it’s important not to shy away from such material, but at the same time, I think much of the detail can often be left to the imagination (as it is here) rather than writing purely for some sort of shock effect.
“Damn! The bastard’s got that prick Sullivan testifying for him.” The prosecution team were not happy, knowing that their job had just been made ten times harder on hearing the news. Detective Sergeant Nelson looked at the prosecution barrister quizzically. As far as Nelson was concerned it was an open and shut case; Cross was a monster, and he’d be going away for a very long time.
“So? What difference does it make, the guy’s as guilty as hell, and with his record what difference does it make who he’s got testifying for him?” The Sergeant asked.
“When it comes to Sullivan, believe me it does matter.”
“Just who is this Sullivan bod? What can he say? I mean, we’ve already got a guilty plea. Nothing can change that?”
“Ahh, this is your first abuse case isn’t it?” Mr Jackson, the barrister replied, realising now the Sergeant’s confusion.
“It means you haven’t yet come across the renowned professor – eminent psychologist specialising in pseudo aversion therapy for those with sexual disorders – guarantees to cure all his charges – for a price!”
“Oh come on, Cross has gotta be looking at a five stretch at the very least!”
Ever since the introduction of sentence hearing legislation for violent and sex offenders, prosecution lawyers now face the double hurdle of not only securing conviction, but also ensuring that such convictions actually mean anything. I don’t suppose I do anything to alleviate their task, at least not from their point of view. But it’s not easy what I do, being hated by relatives, victims, the police, and even my own contemporaries. But someone has to do it, and I suppose the money is a bonus too. But why do I do it, you might ask? I sometimes wonder that myself… I suppose it’s because I’m the best; because the law allows my clients the best testimony money can buy – and I do guarantee my cure. Personally I can’t see what all the fuss is about; my clients, or rather those of the defence lawyers who employ me, avoid useless spells in prison; I get paid lots of money, and above all, I really do help people. Still, it’s a pity that others have to be deceived into seeing things differently…
“Really, Your Honour. In light of the seriousness of the offence and the defendant’s past history, the prosecution cannot agree to the defence’s absurd request for supervised, but non-custodial treatment.” Mr Jackson can see where this is going. I don’t envy his position, or his frustration at the system that allows such absurd argument, but that’s his problem, not mine.
The judge looks up from the sheaf of papers he’s been reading before pulling his half-rimmed spectacles a further half inch down the bridge of is nose: “I shall decide what is and isn’t absurd Mr. Jackson.” The judge begins, before turning his attention to the defence barrister: “But in deciding so, I must confess to some degree of sympathy with the prosecution. Do you have anything to say in support of such a request Mr. Harris?”
“Not directly, but I would like to call upon the expert testimony of Professor Sullivan of the …
“Yes, yes, Mr. Harris. I’m well aware of the eminent Professor and his qualifications. Proceed.”
I enter the dock, calm and relaxed, mentally preparing myself for all too familiar onslaught.
“Come now Professor, are you really suggesting it would be safe to let loose on the community a convicted child molester?”
“I have not suggested anything as yet,” I reply, waiting for him to say, or rather, state something more concrete, something I can use to my advantage. I don’t have to wait long…
“But that is what you will be asking for, is it not?”
“No, Mr. Jackson. That is what you are asking the court not to allow.”
“Is there a difference?” Perfect, I think, so predictable. My advantage…
“Mr. Cross..,” I say deliberately (subtly separating him from the ‘defendant’ label), “…is an admitted paedophile, someone who is prey (making my client a victim too) to intermittent erotic attraction and fantasies, the subjects of which happen to be prepubescent children.”
“And the difference?”
“Perhaps none. Certainly not a quantative one from many of the attractions and fantasies of you, myself, or any other member of the public.” I’m careful not to include the judge in that list, whatever the truth of the matter.
“That is not the difference I was referring to.” As if I didn’t know, again so predictable. I say nothing, pausing for him to push home his perceived advantage: “Is it or is it not your assertion that it would be safe to allow a convicted child molester, a homosexual menace who preys on little boys to essentially walk free from the court, albeit under your supposed supervision at one of your clinics?”
I mentally sigh at the pathetic predictability of his logic; a wonderful but irrelevant piece of rhetoric better saved for a jury. When will these would be actors realise they’re not playing to an audience, I ask myself…
“I appreciate your expertise is one of law, and not of either psychology or psychiatry, and as such your ignorance in these matters can be forgiven. However, a man’s future is at stake here, as well as the well-being of potential victims…”
I must be careful here – mustn’t let it appear that my concern for the defendant’s potential victim’s well-being is secondary to that of my client….but to continue…
“…Firstly, a homosexual as I’m sure you’re aware is simply one who is sexually attracted to one’s own sex. Provided he or she is content with such feelings it is not classified as a disorder. A sexual offence is an offence whatever the sexual preference of the perpetrator, a fact recognised when dealing with heterosexual offenders – one does not hear of a man offending against young girls being referred to as a heterosexual offender. Sexual preferences determined at birth are not considered to be disorders, only some of their many variations which are shaped or developed through experience, social, or environmental influences. Paedophilia is such a variation in that it is volitional, and therefore curable.”
“In that case, surely their conduct is even more reprehensible? At least in the case of the former one can offer the excuse they can’t help themselves, that they’re born like it?”
I inwardly chuckle. The prosecutor thinks he’s got me on the ropes, that I’m digging myself into a hole of which can’t get out. I know it’s wrong – we’re both on the same side at the end of the day, want the same outcome – but I do so enjoy these little one-sided exchanges; slowly I begin to construct the arguments which will tighten and squeeze the emotional strength of his equally emotional rhetoric: “There is some truth in what you say. Even if innate homosexuality was considered a disorder it would indeed be appropriate to proffer the excuse that they can’t help it. But such an excuse is equally applicable to the paedophile. Environmental influences are every bit as powerful as those of our genes…”
A vague and broad statement, but one which I doubt he’ll see the contradiction in what else I have to say… But I digress…
“Such influences compel the victim to act as he does, and yes, I do use the term victim, for paedophiles are as much a victim as those they offend against…”
A risky but necessary line of argument if I’m to keep the pervert out of jail…
“Paedophiles are mostly the product of society, usually having suffered similar assaults to the ones they perpetrate.”
“By your definition then Professor, any child that is molested will become a molester themselves, your words Professor, not mine.”
“No Mr. Jackson, your interpretation of my words. Of course not all children who are molested go on to become molesters themselves, but other factors can combine to make it more likely. But ultimately it is a matter of choice however compelling those factors – just like you or I are physically free to act in all manner of savage ways, but feel compelled not to act as a result of social conditioning – our choice. But change our environment, the rewards of our choices, and indeed so will our choices change.”
“But the fact remains Professor that recidivism among this type of offender is amongst the highest of any criminal group, sexual or otherwise?”
“In the main, yes,” I willingly agree, knowing what he is leading up to. I read him like a book…
“So you agree also the defendant’s likelihood of reoffending then?”
“Of course, that is if he is dealt with in the way you are suggesting. You see Mr. Jackson, there is ample evidence supporting the correlation between stress and instances of reoffending, and considering the nature of prison culture and the scorn and derision with such people as my client are subjected to in prison, stress levels are understandably higher than even the most well-balanced of us could be expected to cope with. The recidivist levels you refer to are largely compiled from previously incarcerated offenders. My own success rate is one hundred percent – not one of the offenders referred to my care has ever been reconvicted of a similar offence, which is considerably better than any record prison can offer amongst any category of offender.”
“But what you fail to take into account is that the prison service cannot choose its charges in the way you do. It has to try and protect society from all such offenders. At least by imposing a custodial sentence, society – its children – is protected from the likes of the defendant.” The prosecutor looks pleased with himself. He thinks he’s dealt a major blow to my reasoning, but all he’s succeeded in doing is set himself up…
“Yes, but for how long? My aim is to protect society – and its children (two can play at that game) – for the duration of the offender’s life, and not just until the rapid extinction of the limited coercive conditioning of a prison sentence. Unless society is willing to imprison such people for the rest of their natural lives then prison is not the answer. Whatever the understandable strength of desire for retribution, and as a father myself…” I pause for breath, and if I’m honest, for dramatic effect… the bit about being a father myself is always a good line…
“…as a father myself,” I repeat, “I do understand such feelings, but my concern must be for the long-term protection of the innocent.”
How easy it is to pull the rug from under him, I think. My job here is almost done, but not yet…
“But returning to your first point, that my exemplary success rate is based on the fact that I can pick and choose who I care to treat; such an assertion is only half true. The real truth of the matter is that I can only choose who not to treat. But anyone referred to me whom I consider curable, I feel compelled to treat. Mr. Cross is such a person; I feel compelled to treat him. If he were not such a person, I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending a lengthy prison sentence.”
“And what exactly is it that makes such a person suitable?” Poor old Jackson, he’s clutching at straws now.
“A number of factors, but primarily the offender’s desire to be cured. Mr. Cross asked for psychotherapy and psychiatric treatment even before he was convicted.” That last bit is a lie of course, but the doctor patient confidentiality laws prevent its exposure as such…
“Hmm… you say that your evaluation of suitability for treatment is based upon the offender’s desire to be cured?”
“Yes,” I agree, waiting for the punchline…
“And is that the only criteria, and not the offender’s ability to pay for such treatment? You do after all run a very profitable clinic.” A cheap shot, but just as I expected, I muse smugly. I wait for Mr. Harris’s equally predictable objection…
“Objection!” Right on cue, the defence barrister roars, springing to his feet: “Any question of monetary gain on the part of Professor Sullivan is irrelevant.”
“Overruled, but I would appreciate it Mr. Jackson if you would make clear the precise point you are trying to make.” It was obvious the judge would overrule. Perhaps Mr. Harris is feeling a little side-lined in our verbal sparring, though I can’t think why, I’m doing a far better job of keeping our little monster from the warm embrace of his fellow inmates than Mr. Harris ever could. But wait, Mr. Jackson isn’t done yet…
“Do you stand to benefit financially from Mr. Cross’s attendance at your clinic, not to mention your attendance here in court today?” Mr. Jackson continues, thinking he’s scored a point.
“Of course I do, just as you, the defence barrister, and all the other court officials, along with numerous other auxiliary staff stand to benefit by way of salary for doing their job. But to be more specific, I benefit no more than I would from any other patient, and, as a State referred patient, even less than I would from most of my private patients undergoing much less intensive and demanding treatments. And as for my court attendance, I stand only to receive reimbursement of my travelling costs, some twenty seven pounds taxi fare from my Harley Street London residence.” A warm glow overtakes me as I note the look of abject defeat in the prosecutor’s face. I know what’s in his mind, that another monster is about to walk free. I can’t help but sympathise… If only he could understand; he did his best, and I commend him for that, but it wasn’t, isn’t good enough. I watch and listen as he resigns himself to defeat, making one last appeal to the judge’s sympathy, for the right of Cross’s innocent victims for some form of redress, but knowing the battle is lost… Cross will walk free… again, if only he understood…
“I wouldn’t have believed it possible. I was sure I’d get another sentence, a long one this time. You really are the best,” Cross says to me, leaving the dock after being sentenced to two years’ probation under my supervision and minimal attendance at my country clinic.
“I won’t let you down,” he adds, smiling as we leave the court…
I begin Cross’s ‘cure’ the day following his sentence hearing. His is an easy case to deal with; no immediate family, or at least none that want anything to do with him. I look forward to transforming such a deviant individual into one who can contribute to the good of society. I stare across at him, holding his look as he tries to fathom what I have in mind.
“There’s no need to be nervous,” I reassure him, “I’m here to help, to understand. I know that’s what you want. Now, tell me about… about what you did, what you still want to do.” He stares at me, puzzled: “Please Mark, I can call you Mark can I?” ‘Good’ I say as he hesitantly nods his agreement…
“It’s all about honesty… honesty and trust. Now tell me why it is you do what you do, feel the way you do… I’m not here to judge.”
Cross looks at me, hard – this isn’t what he was expecting. I stare back, just as hard. He averts his eyes and starts to speak: “It’s not like it seems, not like they said in court. I loved those boys, really I did. And they loved me. They wanted me to love them, to give them something special, offering themselves in return. But isn’t that the way of any relationship?” The monster wants me to agree, to absolve him from blame, confirmation that what he did somehow wasn’t wrong…
Even he wouldn’t try to say that what he did was right, at least not to me…
I sit in silence, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. He takes this as a positive indication to continue his rationalisations: “It was they who seduced me… You must know how seductive some kids are, how they use their innocence and cuteness to get what they want… what’s a man to do?” I feel the contents of my stomach turning. As I said before, my job isn’t an easy one; you all have the luxury of openly displaying your disgust at such monsters. I have to actually listen to their diatribes of excuses. But I have a job to do…
“But it was more than that with you wasn’t it? I mean, you say you loved them, really loved them… especially David Franks, the little boy you were caught with?”
“Yes… Yes I did, and they loved me… David most of all. It was special. Maybe that’s why I hurt him – they say you hurt the one you love and someday society will see that, that it’s just as pure and special a love as any other… One day it’ll be looked on as the most special love of all and not the one that dare not speak its name…”
“Perhaps…” I say, wondering if he knows from whom he’s quoting. Of course he does, this is not a stupid man whatever his other faults: “But there’s a world of difference between Oscar Wilde’s definition of the love of an older for a younger man, and that of an adult for a child, a very young child…” I deliberately use the words ‘very young child’ to emphasise the simplicity and innocence he refers to, that such simplicity and innocence is theirs, however deceptive he may perceive it to be. He must understand this before…
“But whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter…” I continue, “…Until things change as you hope they will, you have a problem, Mark…” I let the words trail off, to make him think about it, to place his trust in me to provide the magical cure that subconsciously he believes will allow him to ‘have his cake and eat it,’ for make no mistake, none of these monsters truly wants their desires cured – imagine if you can, being threatened with having your own heterosexual preference replaced by one of the many supposed paraphilia, or simply losing it altogether? Think if in years to come society should change so very much that heterosexual or any form of physical sex was frowned upon, would you be the first volunteer for removal of desire, your desire? Of course you wouldn’t…
“It’s society that has the problem, society must change…” He still won’t admit…
“But Mark,” I say reassuringly, “you must see the need to compromise, that I wouldn’t be able to save you from prison a second time.”
“So… But then…W-what, where to from here?”
“That’s good, Mark. You’re thinking of the future, and what can be done to control it… I take it your biggest fear is of going back to prison?” Predictably, he readily agrees to this, surprised and relieved that I’m not probing about the effects of what he did to all those boys… very young, innocent boys, I remind myself.
“What we’ve got to do is make sure you never get caught committing a similar offence again, would you not agree, Mark?” Of course he agrees, he says, nodding at the same time. But I can see he doesn’t like it, being in the company of someone who can have him sent back to prison at any time they like if he doesn’t cooperate or do as he’s told… too much like the position of the boys… We’ll see…
“But… How, Professor?” I can see he’s puzzled. No other therapist has ever stated or even implied the simplicity of his ‘problems.’
“Oh, a variety of approaches, all geared to your successful integration back into society.” The word ‘variety’ clearly worries him, it worries them all…
“What approaches? One doctor they made me see suggested drugs… Wanted to chemically castrate me… You wouldn’t do that?”
“No, no, no,” again I reassure him: “They’ll be nothing like that, and nor will there be any of those other out-dated modes of treatment; no group therapy, no EST, no one-to-ones with any of your victims, and no aversion therapy.” He shudders at them all, but the last in particular – I’m not surprised; having electric rings placed round your penis and receiving often quite painful shocks for becoming aroused at the very things that make you you.
“You see, Mark, what we do here at the clinic is prepare you for life, not some artificial psychological interpretation of it, but real life, free of the temptation you’ve had to endure in the past. We deal in the practicalities here; once you leave my care you’ll be provided with the means to make a new start, a new identity, away from anyone who knows your past. You’ll be above suspicion; not only will you be ‘cured,’ you’ll never have had a problem in the first place.”
He smiles, relieved at how agreeable, how sympathetic I am towards him and his kind, that I understand. And he’s right, I do understand, all too well, which is why I do what I do, why I’m compelled to treat him just as much as he feels compelled to do what he does. There! I’ve answered your original; question, ‘Why do I do it?’ – Because I really do understand… Perhaps there’s more to self-analysis and all this psychological mumbo jumbo than I give credit for.
“Congratulations, Mark. It’s been a long, hard two years, especially this past six months living away from the clinic (but still well away from temptation, I made sure of that), but I’m sure you’d agree it’s been worth it?”
“Definitely,” he says, thinking that’s what I want to hear. He knows I’ve been keeping his libido artificially low – not so low as to disappear – he’d never stand for that – but low enough for him to control, to still enjoy the memory of times gone by. Yes, he thinks he’s fooled me into believing he’s cured. Not to worry though, they’re all like that at this stage, but the time will come, I silently promise him… Soon, very soon, I promise myself too…
“As you know, I have to produce evidence that you’ve completed certain prescribed modes of treatment, otherwise the courts wouldn’t recognise my competence to recommend your release from psychiatric probation; group therapy, mild aversion therapy, one-to-one counselling – all those I can fudge the paperwork on, all except one last aspect of your treatment, the victim confrontation one, but that can be gotten round by a simple letter of apology from yourself to the court, asking it to pass on your deepest regrets and apologies to the boys, saying that it was entirely your fault what happened, but that you’re going away somewhere so they never need worry about you again.”
I’m sure you all know what I mean, the courts like that sort of thing…
“Yes, yes I can do that, Professor, Just so long as I don’t have to see any of them… I won’t… will I?”
“No, you won’t have to face them, not ever again. In fact, you just write me a draft of what you feel you should be saying, and I’ll make sure it’s appropriate for what I think will most impress the court. Just leave it all to me…”
I call on Mark to collect the letter. It’s quite early, but he’s already up and dressed. I suspect he hopes I’ll be gone quite soon, leaving him the rest of the day to visit some school he’s no doubt scoped out in my absence… I think not…
Perfect, I say to myself; he’s written it just as I asked. I’m impressed. It could almost be sincere, but even he’s not that convincing a liar, at least not to me. But it will do very nicely, especially should it become necessary to answer any awkward questions into Cross’s whereabouts at some later date. I think, placing it in my inside jacket pocket.
He offers me a drink. I accept. I wait for him to pour himself one before asking if he could fetch some ice to go with mine, knowing that the kitchen is at the far end of the secluded cottage I had set him up in. He fetches me the ice. Long enough, the deed is done. All that remains is for me to wait for the cocktail of drugs I added to his drink to take effect. Five minutes or so and he should be in a semi-state of delirium. He doesn’t know what’s happening, which is more than can be said for those boys – they suffered every minute of their ordeals.
It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to get him to swallow a more than liberal amount of alcohol, and the thirty or so Valium I’ve brought with me. Meanwhile I return my own now empty glass to the drinks cabinet. It isn’t long before he lapses into unconsciousness. I haul him towards the open fireplace. The actual fire has not long gone out by the looks of it, but there are still sufficient hot burning embers for what I have in mind. I lift his body to a semi-upright position before letting it fall towards the edge of the coal grate. His head misses the brass spike I was hoping it would strike. It doesn’t matter. I simply raise it about nine inches or so and direct it myself, making sure of its impact this time. The almost pointed spike lodges in the side of his left temple a full three inches, stopped only by the ornamental criss-cross brass rail that runs round the edge of the grate. I position his hands in the dying embers of the fire in a way that suggests he tried to thrust them forward in an attempt to break his fall. By the time police arrive any trace of his palm or fingerprints will have been scorched out of existence, just like the rest of his previous identity. I’ve already checked that no dental records of him exist from when he was last in prison). It will be my creation they identify, the new life and identity I had promised him.
I’m careful to place a voice altering device over the receiver before calling 999 for an ambulance. I explain that I’ve taken an overdose, slurring my words at the same time. I let the receiver fall to the floor. A line trace will be automatic once the receiver has been left off the hook for more than three minutes; it saves me the time of having to give my name and address. There is only one more thing I have to do before I go. I place the organ donation card in his back trouser pocket, clearly stating Albert Peterson’s permission to use any of his organs in the event of his death, and of course, the absence of any next of kin.
You see? I do help people; I have integrated (bits of) him back into society. Who knows, he might well contribute to the successful and productive lives of several members of the community, perhaps even one of the young lives he tried so hard to destroy.
My thoughts return to the immediate task at hand: I leave the cottage. I must remember to add its cash rental costs to my fee from little David Franks’ parents. Another successful cure!
Of course, this particular cure isn’t applicable to all those I help, no indeed. For the more usual and less complicated cases, such as your average violent bully, wife beater or drug pusher I sometimes sub-contract their treatment to others more suited to such cases, men such as Ronald Hatch, or Hatchet Ron as he’s better known. Old Ron, as I affectionately call him, to all intents and purposes comes across as a hard and brutal money orientated hitman, but I know different – beneath that vicious exterior beat a heart of gold, and a real understanding of what’s right and wrong – I think that’s why I employ him from time to time. And for those less violent individuals but for which the world would be a better place without I sometimes introduce them to a former patient of mine, a legitimate patient and budding writer I might add, a funny little chap simply known as Mr. Brown. I do have to be careful with him though – the last person I sent his way ended up getting his head hacked off; Mr. Brown does tend to over react sometimes. He’s currently being treated in a prison hospital for that little outburst, but I’m hopeful of using my influence to get him released quite soon, but I digress, those stories are for another time perhaps…
“I suppose you heard about Deakins? Sullivan helped get him off with a year’s probation… Just so long as he undergoes therapy sessions twice a week,” snarled the detective constable who had helped convict Deakins for messing about with a three year old girl, one of Deakins’ own daughters in fact: “The man should have been put away for life for what he did.”
“I know, I know,” said the DC’s superior, Detective Sergeant Nelson, “it was only a few years ago I first came across the sodding professor myself. A guy I thought was going down for five years at the very least, walked out free as a fucking bird thanks to the good professor… he’s had more than twenty cases like that… if only he understood the harm he’s doing trying to protect these monsters…”
‘Saving Grace’ is a short story, or what is often referred to now as a Kindle Short. W.K. Tucker is someone I met during the AtoZ April blogging challenge by way of posts we both responded to, and have since kept in touch via blogging. Although relatively new to self-publishing and the world of amazon publishing, W. K. Tucker has a long and successful history of short story writing, having been published in various magazines over the years. In addition to ‘Saving Grace,’ she is also the author of another short story, ‘Pearls Before Swine,’ also available as a Kindle Short from Amazon.
Further information and links to the author’s work, along with several free short stories and poetry can be found at her wordpress blog:
By W. K. Tucker
(Availabe as an eBook Kindle short from Amazon)
This is a lovely and delightful little story. Aggie, the narrator, is an elderly woman living alone in a remote house in some woods with just her ageing dog Penny for company most of the time. One night something extraordinary happens – something lands in the woods, something ‘otherworldly’ from the sky, and together they discover a small almost transparent jellyfish-like creature. Being a good and kind woman, and seeing that it’s cold and in need of help, Aggie takes the creature in, naming it Grace; what follows is a gripping story of how the creature develops, and how it more than repays the kindness and trust shown by both Aggie and her dog, a kindness that the whole of mankind will ultimately benefit from.
Written in the first person, Aggie conjures up a perfect image of the deep south of America, of the southern cornfields, rocking chairs on the porch, and the old ageing dog in the background. Not only does she achieve this through some quaint imagery and terminology, but she takes the brave decision to write entirely in the local southern dialect and accent; whether this would be a good idea in a longer story I don’t know, but here it works perfectly, giving the narrative and dialogue a real flavour of the south to them. There are some subtle references that add to the atmosphere too such as her mistrust of the ‘government’ men who may take an interest in ‘Grace.’ Although ultimately this has a real feel-good factor to it, there is a nice mix of danger and suspense too – an effective blend of sci-fi and horror all mixed up in a very real down to earth setting. My only disappointment with this story was that it eventually had to end. Highly recommended.
Also by W. K. Tucker:
I’ve partly been inspired to write this story while on a trip to Glen Coe in the West Highlands of Scotland, and today in particular where many years ago I was fortunate enough to witness a rare and beautiful atmospheric phenomenon atop the summit of Leum Uilliem, a place that holds a special place in my heart as the following story and memoire will make clear.
The other part of today’s inspiration stems from one of the AtoZchallenge posts from yesterday which stressed the importance of connecting with and really feeling what you’re writing, and my memories and feelings for this particular place I’m sure will bear witness to that.
Today was the first time I’ve returned to that particular spot in twenty years…
Those experienced in outdoor pursuits or simply possessing a love of the mountains and countryside will no doubt immediately recognise the phenomenon it for what it is from the photographs, but otherwise, the phenomenon becomes clearer towards the end of the story…
It had been three years since his mum died; Liam was seven now and of an age when simply telling him his mum was in heaven really didn’t cut it anymore. It wasn’t just curiosity though that was spurring his questions, but fear – afraid that he was forgetting her just a little bit more with each passing day, and more so the fear that she might be forgetting him.
I tried explaining that memories weren’t like that, that you didn’t remember loved ones in the same way you remember the route to school or what you saw in a film, that memories were something much more special, that you felt them in your heart and at special times when you were feeling either sad or very happy. I could see in his eyes he was puzzling over what I was saying but not really understanding enough to allay the sadness I knew he was feeling. At that moment I would rather have been facing my most frightening and dangerous enemy than those questions to which I had no answers for, at least not for now…
It was the school holidays, a couple of weeks before the start of the Scottish deer stalking season, and I’d rented a small cottage for the two of us just a few miles from Corrour Station on the West Highland line, and ideal for taking Liam on his first ever proper climb up Leum Uilliem in the Glen Coe region of Scotland and home to the majestic Ben Nevis, highest mountain in the UK.
Needless to say that was the one Liam said we should tackle but the more interesting and difficult routes would have been too much for him, and as for the tourist path, it would have been chocked with ill-equipped day trippers trundling up in their flimsy trainers and even on occasion, flip-flops, hardly the example I wanted for Liam on his first climb; besides which, it’s really quite a boring trek going that way.
I had it in mind that taking him to some of the places me and his mum had spent so many happy times walking and climbing together might make him feel closer to her and generally cheer him up; actually telling him that he was almost certainly conceived in one of those places was probably a little more than even his inquiring young mind was quite ready for so perhaps another time for that little revelation. Beyond that I really didn’t know what else I could do.
We began our ascent of Leum Uilliem, one of the easier Corbetts at a shade under 3000ft, from Corrour Station, itself positioned at a height of 1,340ft, thus making the ascent a not too difficult one, though still quite a challenge for a seven year old given some of the terrain.
At the start, a corner of the Moor of Rannoch, we began our journey westwards across the moorland towards the northern ridge of the hill, crossing the Allt Coir’ a’ Bhric Beag along the deer stalking-path as we approached the crest of the ridge and then upwards to the south west, over Tom an Eoin while I explained about such paths and the deer stalking season of the following month. He didn’t seem to approve of deer stalking but I was pleased to note that his initial disappointment at not being able to tell all his mates when he returned to school had climbed the ‘Ben’ had all but disappeared.
His disapproval of deer stalking was so much like his mum’s, I thought at the time, as she too hated anything like that no matter how many time you explained its necessity; perhaps Liam would understand better…
“I think mum was right,” Liam proudly declared, “it’s wrong killing the deer.”
Obviously not! Well that told me in no uncertain terms, I couldn’t help thinking. I needn’t have worried about his dwelling on it though as soon enough, he was firing more and different questions about our trek at every juncture:
“What’s… Alt.. Coy.. a.. brick?” He asked, trying to interpret the pronunciation while looking at the map I had given him to hold.
“Well, let’s take a look at the book shall we?” I replied, taking out a small local guidebook from my rucksack.
“Allt means stream, and Bhric Beag means speckled and small, and Coir’.. It’s not here but It means corrie, and altogether it roughly means stream of the speckled corrie.. You’ll soon get used to seeing words and names like these as you do more map reading”
“And what about that one… Tom an E..oin?”
“Ahh, that’s an easy one,” I said, “it means knoll of the bird.. or eagle maybe.”
“And what’s… Lee.. Um… Oo.. Illiem.. ?” I couldn’t help but chuckle at his struggle with the spelling, and Liam chuckled too…
“It means William’s Leap.” Liam looked at me, not even trying to hide his puzzled frown…
“And before you ask, no one really knows who William was, or why he leapt, it’s something that’s long since been forgotten.”
“Okay.” Was his short and accepting reply; perhaps I had been was wrong, and he really wasn’t bothered who William was or why he might have leapt. And on that note we continued our trek, slowly gaining height as we turned eastwards across the saddle of and up the broad ridge towards the spacious summit of Leum Uilliem, or ‘William’s Leap’ as I had previously and as it seemed, unnecessarily explained.
We had been at it for the best part of nearly three hours by now and the summit was in sight. It had been quite a hard slog what with the rain the previous day making much of the ground hard going, and I could tell the effort was beginning to tell a bit, but not once did he complain or appear to lose interest. Right at that moment I couldn’t have been prouder of my little trooper, and instead of denting his own pride in asking him if he needed to rest I discreetly slowed the pace right down before declaring I needed a quick rest before our final push to the summit…
“Okay dad, if you like…” he happily agreed.
“So son, how have you enjoyed our day so far?”
“It’s been great dad, and the map reading, that’s been fun too, but I still don’t get the compass and … bearings thingy yet.”
“Don’t you worry about that, we’ll do more of that another time.”
“Was mum good at… Maps and things?” He asked, quite out of the blue.
“Ermm, yes, sort of, but… Between you and me I think she was probably a lot better than she let on, but she preferred enjoying the scenery than doing the hard work and thinking bit.” Liam laughed out loud at that before munching into a sandwich.
“Shall we kick off again then matey?” I asked, hoisting my rucksack back on.
“Yep, let’s go!” He replied eagerly, lifting himself up to join me.
The extensive views from the top were simply stunning, embracing moors, lochs and innumerable summits…
“You’re right dad, it’s great up here,” Liam declared, “I reckon mum must have really loved it.”
His back and face slightly turned away from me as he stared across the landscape, some several feet away from me. I recognised that tone of voice, it was the one he had when he sometime got upset when thinking about his mum. I saw his hand raise up to wipe his face, no doubt rubbing away the tears he didn’t want me to see. Perhaps it was just as well he was turned away from me otherwise he might have seen me doing much the same thing a moment later.
“I know son…” I said, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“I won’t forget her, I promise dad.”
“Of course you won’t, just as she won’t forget you either.. She’s out there.. Somewhere, watching us… And smiling no doubt at how muddy and dirty we are.”
Liam turned his head to look up at me: “You really think so?”
“You betcha’ son.” I said with all the conviction and certainty I could muster, and for that brief moment I believed it too.
And then I saw it, in the distance, pointing to draw Liam’s attention to it too…
“What’s that dad?” Liam asked excitedly, adding, “it looks like a rainbow, but not like the ones I’ve seen.”
I was about to explain but something stopped me as the germ of an idea began to take shape…
“Try moving to the side a bit and look it straight on.” I urged. He moved as I suggested and stared open mouthed in amazement…
“It’s… It’s like… An angel standing in the middle dad…”
“Not just an angel son, I told you mum was looking out as us from somewhere..”
“Maybe… Why not give her a wave, see if she doesn’t see and wave back?”
I stepped a few paces back and to the side as Liam gingerly raised an arm before waving at the figure in the circular rainbow, silently praying that the conditions were right for what I was hoping…
“Dad!” Liam shouted, “dad, dad, look… She waving back, look dad, she’s waving back at me…”
I had never gone much on religion and God, and even less so with the things and I’d seen and done in my past career, but I mouthed a silent ‘thank you’. By now of course, Liam was waving like a madman at the angelic figure, utterly mesmerised by its apparent responses, utterly convinced his mum was joining in the fun.
An elderly couple were looking on from a short distance away, they too probably there either to just enjoy the moment or perhaps reliving memories of their own.
I strolled towards them and briefly explained about Liam and his mum, and how he believed he was waving back at her in the rainbow.
They of course knew the truth, that it was just an optical illusion brought about by a unique set of weather conditions, of the sun shining from behind us as we stared down from the ridge into the mist below while the light projected shadows through the mist, and Liam’s movements seemingly reflected in that of the ghostly figure…
The old woman smiled and started to cry, just a little, but with a beaming smile across her face. Her husband put his arm around her, and gave her a gentle hug and thanked me for sharing the moment with them.
And in that moment we shared an unspoken understanding and so there was no need for them to promise not to shatter the illusion once the phenomenon passed…
I turned back towards where Liam was still waving and dancing at the shadowy figure and made my way over. By now the rainbow was starting to dissipate, and the angelic shadow was losing its form…
“Bye mum,” I heard Liam softly say… “Love you…”
I put my hand on his shoulder once again…
“Where did you go dad? Why didn’t you stay and wave with me?”
“It’s okay son, it was you she wanted to see and tell how much she loved and remembered. That was your special moment. It’s why I brought you here, I had a feeling mum would be somewhere about to say hello.”
I had no idea of course that we would see a ‘Brocken Spectre’ that day; I’d seen such phenomena several times on Mt. Snowden, and a few more times in Germany too, but never one quite so spectacular in this part of the world.
On those previous occasions I had often wondered what our ancestors might have thought, that maybe some peasant farmer on the hills of Macedonia might be thinking he’s staring down or across at the inhabitants of Mt Olympus, or even some Gaelic tribesman closer to home, truly believing himself to be staring into the very soul of some pagan god, but right now nothing could have been further from my mind, all I could see was my happy little boy who really believed me when I told him his mum was in heaven and still loved and remembered him.
I wouldn’t normally of lied to Liam, but seeing his face, seeing all his fears and tears disappear I thought I might reasonably be forgiven, just this once…
Steve Carter was excited to be working for the new budget airline. All those years of study and tests had really paid off. So why shouldn’t he have celebrated with a few drinks and some partying? All he needed was a relaxing shower, some black coffee, a couple of aspirin, and he’d be fine. Still, he was regretting not getting to bed at a reasonable time; sleeping through the alarm call was stressing him out. He needed to relax. Maybe just a ‘hair of the dog’ to settle his nerves, he thought; that last can of lager was still in the fridge, shame to waste it…The drive to work was just as stressful. There was more traffic than he expected, and when he did eventually get onto the dual carriageway he had to break the speed limit several times to make it on time. But now he was actually in the cockpit, running through the pre-flight safety checks:
- Aircraft registration, certification, and related paperwork up to date – check!
- Ignition switch in off position – check!
- Turn on master power switch – check!
- Check fuel gauges – check!
- Listen to sounds of equipment powering on. Radio cooling fans, instrument gyros, and all other equipment. No unusual sounds – check!
- Landing flaps and gear lock down leavers all functioning normally – check!
Everything seemed good to go. A nod from his co-pilot confirmed it. This is it then Stevie boy, he thought, let’s do it…
“This is your Captain speaking,” Steve began, “I just want to welcome you all aboard UK Air 247. We are now cruising at an altitude of thirty thousand feet. I hope you all have a pleasant flight.”
The next half hour went smoothly. The take-off had gone like a breeze, what could go wrong?
“Reports of turbulence ahead.” The co-pilot said. Steve didn’t want to hear that, his head was still throbbing, and having to concentrate wasn’t helping…
“Prepare for lift to thirty five thousand feet, that should take us above it. I’ll get confirmation from Air Traffic Control” Steve replied. The plane wasn’t responding though. In fact, they were struggling to maintain their present altitude. The cockpit was beginning to rock from side to side as the aircraft entered the turbulence.
“It’s worse than we were told. This is severe turbulence.” Steve was saying before they were interrupted by a knock on the dividing door between them and the passengers. A voice asked if everything was okay, and suggesting that the passengers would appreciate a word of reassurance from the flight crew when they had a chance.
“Not now!” Steve snapped back. The co-pilot and stewardess exchanged concerned glances that didn’t go unnoticed by Steve…
“I’m sorry,” Steve said hastily, “could you just go and tell them we’re experiencing some bad weather and we’ll be through it shortly, thanks.” The stewardess nodded and closed the door behind her. Steve was finally getting the plane to increase in altitude, and was feeling more relaxed. It wasn’t to last. A moment later a blinding flash shot across the front window, followed by a sharp jolt to the cockpit and what sounded like a small explosion and the sound of thunder following the lightning.
“Captain!” The co-pilot shouted. “Fire on one of the left engines. That lightning bolt must have caught us.”
Shit shit shit, was all Steve could think, why now, why today when there was enough thunder going on in his head? He had to think, how to respond, what to do?
“The controls are barely responding, we need to make an emergency landing, and soon!”
The stewardess came back in and made another appeal for reassurance from the flight crew. Steve didn’t have time that, telling her to do her job and give the assurances herself.
“Captain Steve Carter of UK Air 247, requesting clearance for an emergency landing. Over?” He said over the radio.
“This is Air Traffic Control, state your emergency and flight status. Over?”
“We’ve been hit by lightning on the left starboard engine. Flight controls failing to respond, and losing altitude. Requesting emergency landing guidance.”
The temperature inside the cockpit was rising. Steve and his co-pilot were sweating, but Steve more so. The damage to the engine and the controls must have affected the cooling circuits. That in itself wasn’t too much to worry about, but it raised the danger of a complete electrical short-circuit.
“Air Traffic Control to UK Air 247, please respond?”
“UK Air 247 here, pass your message control.”
“We’re sending a revised flight plan now, stand by.”
Steve was directed to land the plane at a nearby airport several miles ahead. Steve and his co-pilot prepared for their descent and landing…
“Aircraft lined up with runway. Check.” The co-pilot confirmed.
Steve pulled back the throttle, less than a quarter inch, being careful to keep their airspeed within the green safety arc. The nose of the aircraft began to dip slightly, but Steve found himself having to constantly pull and push on the yoke to keep the aircraft steady. He could see the look of concern on his co-pilot’s face, who was remaining conspicuously quiet. Despite his best efforts, the cockpit was rocking from side to side and their descent was much too fast. Once again the nose began to dip, but this time much too quickly and too much. They were too low. Some power lines loomed ahead of them in the distance. Steve tried to pull the aircraft up, but… Too late! The landing gear caught the top of them, and again the nose of the aircraft started to dip even more, just before going into a headlong dive…
Steve, the crew, and the fifty seven passengers never had a chance….
“Well, that was pretty dire wasn’t it?” The chief flight instructor began, “had that been a real aircraft you were flying instead of one our latest advanced simulators then you, your flight crew, and all the passengers would now be dead!” Steve started to try and say something but was cut short… “I would suggest you try bus driving but they don’t particularly like their drivers with a hangover or half pissed either. Now get out!”
There’s an old saying, ‘We all make mistakes,’ and of course, we all do: big ones, little ones, silly ones, and often, stupid ones. And once and a while, someone makes one that is as ‘big and stupid ‘as they come…
The plans were all laid. Big Ron had a gotten together quite a crew for this one: There was little Mickey ‘Wheels’ Tanner, the best getaway driver short of Sterling moss. Jack Dawkins, the explosives expert, electrics and alarms man, Peter Hills. And last but not least, that well known hard-man, Hatchet Harry, had been brought in to add a bit of muscle; any problems with wannabe heroes, and Hatchet Harry was more than willing to shove a sawn-off shotgun down their throat – and pull the trigger too if they thought he was bluffing.
Rumour had it that this was a rather exclusive bank, very discreet, catering to the stars, politicians, the super-rich, and even senior members of the Royal family. Located in the heart of London’s exclusive Mayfair, it was an old Victorian building, with little to indicate what is was other that a shiny brass plate, saying simply, The Bank.
Big Ron had high hopes for this one. With that sort of clientele there had to be serious money to be had, not to mention jewellery, bonds, and god knows what sort of secrets the rich and powerful preferred kept secret…
“So, we’re all clear then, we go through the adjacent wall. Pete here has already traced the in-wall alarm wires so there’s no probs there.” Big Ron said.
“And I’ll be waiting right outside with the motor running.” Peter Hills assured them.
“Yer’ bloody well better be!” Added Hatchet Harry.
“I still don’t get why there ain’t more security though, I mean like, if there’s really as much as yer’ reckon there is?” Hatchet Harry said. He might have been the hired muscle but he was far from the stupid oaf many thought him to be…
“It’s as I explained,” Big Ron began, “‘it’s because of who the customers are. They don’t want people, you know, the public and the Press and stuff knowing their business. And a load of armed guards and security cams and stuff would attract too much attention.”
Hatchet Harry nodded, still not fully convinced, but sufficiently tempted by Big Ron’s promises of untold money to put aside his doubts.
“Right then, let’s do it.
It had been a well-planned job, right down to the last detail. Big Ron had leased the adjacent basement office for the past six months, at no inconsiderable expense. Every penny he had, had been invested in this one last caper. And things were progressing nicely…
“That’s it, we’re in,” declared Jack, the explosives man, “an’ you’re sure we haven’t tripped any of them alarm wires, Pete?”
“No chance.” Pete Replied.
“Stop yakking and let’s get in and out, pronto!” Said Big Ron, following the two of them through the hole in the wall, closely followed by Hatchet Harry.
“Who the hell…” A voice boomed at them, “Where… How did you get in here..?” Hatchet Harry was the first to respond…
“Down on the floor. Now!”
The night security guard did as he was told; when Hatchet Harry told you to do something, you did it.
“Right, Pete, start on opening those deposit boxes,” Big Ron bellowed.
“Wh… What is it you want here?” The security guard stuttered, turning his head to look up at them all.
“Are you serious? We want what’s in all those cash filled deposit boxes.” Hatchet Harry replied.
Despite the obvious danger he was in, the security guard couldn’t help but let out a muffled laugh: “That’s what this is about, money?” And again he laughed.
“First one’s open,” Peter Hills declared.
“And?” Asked one of the others.
“Erm, I’m not sure… Just some test tubes and, erm, petri dishes I think they’re called.”
The others looked around at each other in disbelief, and then to the security guard:
“There’s no money in any those boxes.” He said
“No money!” Growled Hatchet Harry, not at the security guard, but at Big Ron.
“What do you mean, no money?” He said again, turning back to the security guard who was still lying prone on the ground…
“This isn’t that sort of bank, it’s a blood and tissue bank, you know, genetic material, stem-cells, stuff like that, to help the rich and famous to stay young and healthy when they start to get old and sick. They’re the only ones who can afford all this.”
Hatchet Harry turned again at Big Ron, shot-gun in hand…
“It’s not my fault, how was I to know that?” Big Ron pleaded.
It didn’t matter; Hatchet Harry raised the gun a little higher and fired a shot straight in Big Ron’s head…
“Pretty bad mess we got here.” The detective in charge was saying.
“Yeah. Who’d have thought Big Ron would end up making a deposit in the very bank he was trying to rob?” His colleague added, looking across at the mass of brain tissue and scull fragments splattered across the front of the tissue deposit boxes of the vault…