Short Stories

"Shit, this weather is getting worse, I can barely see in front of me".

As usual, Satan was talking to himself.

He only had a few friends, and of those he did have, none would be stupid enough to accompany him on a late night drive in this weather.

The Dark One was returning from a business trip up north, where he had been closing a deal to acquire more souls. The meeting had gone well. He had purchased a dozen pure souls, and his client had thrown in a few wretched ones to seal the bargain. Yes, all had gone well until he had to make the return journey in this appalling weather.

"Oh do me a favour! What's wrong now?" Satan grimaced as his car spluttered and coughed, before slowly coming to a halt.

"That's all I fucking need. Now where's my bloody breakdown cover?"
Satan reached into his glove compartment and pulled out his crumpled certificate with the emergency number printed in big black type across the top. Flipping open his mobile phone, he gave another curse as he realised he had no signal. Trying anyway and getting the requisite "connection unavailable”, he let out a "Why Me?" at the top of his voice.

Looking through the rain splattered windows he could just make out the illuminated word "HOTEL" in red neon.

Satan pulled his jacket over his head before stepping out of the car into the raging storm. He proceeded to manoeuvre the car as best he could into the kerb until both his energy and interest sapped.

"Fuck it. Who cares?" were his parting words as he strode through the deep puddles on route to the hotel.

Making his way through the double doors into the reception area of the hotel he was a little put out to find that the desk was unmanned. Hitting the bell three times in quick succession he glared about him while waiting for someone to appear.

Minutes passed before he struck the bell again, this time with a ferociousness that would have sent a saint down to hell. The bell merely tinkled a faint and muffled "ding", before collapsing into molten metal.

Satan stared at the fist that had done the smiting and realised it was all aflame. "Oh fuck, this is getting to me; at this rate I will burn the place to ashes before I get a bed for the night".

He placated himself with a "Calm down old fellow, take it easy".

The door behind the desk opened and a grizzled old man appeared. With a smile that would have melted the heart of anyone but the prospective guest, the old man spoke cheerfully, "Good evening sir, what can I do for you on this dreadful night?"

"A room for one, with en-suite if you have it," Satan replied.

"Certainly sir, I have one room vacant on the sixth floor. Number sixty-six, would that suffice?"

Satan reached for the key with the 666 embossed prominently upon it and smiled. "Couldn't be better, home sweet home"

He told the clerk his car had broken down and that he would need it repaired and ready for the morning. He passed on the car keys, the breakdown certificate with the phone number and registration details, and asked the clerk if he could get it all arranged.

Satan added that there would be a decent tip if everything was 'tickety-boo' by the time he had finished breakfast the following day.

The smiling clerk told Satan that all would be ‘tickety-boo’ by morning, and assured him that everything would be taken care of. 

Going up in the elevator to the sixth floor the devil was slowly shaking off his bad mood. Still dripping wet of course, and if he had any spirits, they would also be pretty damp. Nevertheless, what the hell, he’d soon dry off.

Putting the key in the door, turning it, and then stepping into the room, Satan shrugged off his sodden clothes, hung them on the radiator and stepped into a steaming shower. "What the hell?" he repeated to himself. "Life ain't so bad".

Satan returned from the shower wrapped in the fluffy white gown, supplied free of charge by the hotel, and now he felt almost human. At least as human as any self respecting devil could feel.

After making himself a coffee from the facilities unit, he climbed into bed, dimmed the lights, and let himself drift into his favourite tormented sleep. Within moments he was blissfully dreaming of howling souls and burning red coals.

He awoke drowsily and knew at once that a drug had been administered to his normally all-powerful body. Finding his strength diminished and his powers non-existent, he could barely struggle with the bonds now holding him.

Satan quickly realised his arms and legs were stretched out to the four corners of the bed, all tied firmly to the bedposts. Surrounded by chanting figures, all but one masked, he immediately recognised the lone unmasked tormentor as that of the smiling front-desk clerk.

Satan's voice came out mumbled as there was a red kerchief rammed deeply into his mouth; but, even through the restriction, it was clear the words "fuck" and "hell" had been uttered."

As he writhed weakly on the bed pulling at his bonds the voice of the clerk came through the rhythmic chanting of the masked assailants.

"Hark oh Beelzebub, we pray to you Dark Lord; please accept this sacrifice as our pledge of unceasing devotion. Please accept the blood of this lowly human who we sacrifice in thy name and in this room dedicated to you, our eternal lord and master"

With these words the still smiling, the now near hysterical clerk plunged a dagger deep into Satan's black heart.

I place the last brick in the wall, and leave the cement to dry before plastering. Hopefully when I return to finish the job his screams will have stopped....

"The Demons of War are Persistent”

 A Personal Story of Prolonged PTSD

 —A.W. Schade, USMC 1965/69 

Fifty years have passed since my deployment as a combat Marine to Vietnam. However, only several years since I acknowledged my inability to continue suppressing the demons alone. Like many veterans, the “Demons” have haunted me through nightmares, altered personas, and hidden fears. 

Even as many veterans manage the demons’ onslaught successfully, millions survive in destitution, needless solitude, and social disconnection. Scores consider themselves cowards, should they concede to the demons’ hold. Countless live in denial and loneliness, protecting their warrior’s pride. The most vulnerable— tormented by guilt and feeling forever alone — too often choose to “end” their lives.


As friends and family gather to celebrate another joyful holiday, I am often disheartened, reminded by vivid memories of lost friendships and battlefield carnage that erratically seeps from a vulnerable partition of my mind. The cerebral hiding place I concocted, decades before, as a mechanism to survive in society. I unwittingly clutch at profound loneliness as I avoid searching for memories of my youthful years. If I dare to gaze into my past, I must transcend a cloak of darkness weaved to restrain the demons from so many years before.

My pledge to God, Country, and the Marine Corps were more than forty years ago. As a young, unproven warrior, I consented to the ancient rules of war. At eighteen, like many others, I was immersed in the ageless stench of death and carnage, in the mountains and jungles of Vietnam. However, my journey began much earlier, on a sixty-mile bus ride with other nervous teenagers, to New York City’s legendary Induction Center at 39 White Hall Street.

We went through lines of examinations and stood around for hours, recognizing one another’s bare asses before we could learn each other’s names. We did not realize so many of us would remain together in squads and fire teams, building deep-seated bonds of friendships along our journey. Our initial ‘shock’ indoctrination began immediately at Parris Island; intimidating Drill Instructors scrambled our disoriented butts off the bus, organized us into a semblance of a formation, and herded us to the barracks for a night of hell!

Anxiety, second-guessing our decision to join, and apprehension was our welcoming. Following what we thought would be sleep (but was actually a nap), we awoke in awe to explosive clamor, as the DIs banged on tin garbage can lids next to our bunks, yelling ‘get up you maggots.’ Even the largest recruits trembled.

We remained maggots for the next few weeks and began intense physical and mental training, slowly recognizing the importance of “the team” instead of “the individual.” In less than sixteen weeks we were proud United States Marines. It was a short celebration though, as we loaded our gear and headed, in order, to Camp Lejeune, Camp Pendleton, Okinawa and then the Philippines, where we continued to enhance our stealth and killing skills, before executing these talents on the already blood-soaked fields of Vietnam.

We argued and fought amongst ourselves as brothers often do. Still, we never lost sight of the bonds we shared: We were United States Marines with an indisputable commitment to “always cover each other’s back.” Crammed into the bowels of Navy Carrier Ships, we slept in hammocks with no more than three inches from your brother’s butt above you. The sailors laughed as these self-proclaimed “bad-ass Marines” transformed into the wimpy “Helmet Brigade.” We vomited into our skull buckets for days on our way to Okinawa, where we would engage in counter-guerrilla warfare training. 

Aware that we were going to Vietnam, we partied hard in every port. The first of our battles were slugfests in distant bar-room brawls.

Conversely, our minds were opened to the poverty and living conditions of these famous islands in the Pacific. Their reputations preceded them, but stories about war with Japan—John Wayne movies—were not what we found. Instead, we found overpopulated, dirty cities; we were barraged constantly by poor children seeking any morsel of food. In the fields, families lived in thatched huts with no electricity or sanitary conditions. 

While training I experienced the horror of being chased by a two-ton water buffalo (with only blanks in my rifle). Moments before, this same beast was led around by a ring through its nose by a ten-year-old boy. Worse than the chasing was hearing the laughter of brother Marines watching me run at full speed, trying to find something to climb. In a tree, I felt as though I was losing the “macho” in Marine, and we were still thousands of miles from Vietnam.

In confidence, we spoke as brothers about our fears, hardships growing-up, family, girlfriends, times of humiliation, prejudice, and what we planned to do in our lifetime once our tour of duty in Vietnam was over. We knew each other’s thoughts and spoke as though we would all return home alive, never considering the thought of death or defeat. We had not learned that lesson, yet. 

Moreover, we dreamed of going home as respected American warriors who defended democracy in a remote foreign land, standing proud, feeling a sense of accomplishment, and experiencing life, as none of our friends at home would understand. Our country had called and we answered.

We transferred to a converted WWII aircraft carrier that carried helicopters and Marines instead of jet planes. We were to traverse the coast of Vietnam and deploy by helicopter into combat zones from the Demilitarized Zone, the imaginary line separating North and South Vietnam, to the provinces and cities of Chu Lai and Da Nang. Then further south, to the outer fringes of Vietnam’s largest city, which was, at that time, Saigon.

Within sight of land, we heard the roar of artillery, mortars and the familiar crackling of a small-arms fire. These were sounds we were accustomed to because of months of preparing ourselves for battle. However, for the first time, we understood the sounds were not from playing war games. Someone was likely dead. Anxiety, adrenaline highs, and fear of the unknown swirled within my mind.

Was I prepared? Could I kill another man? Would another man kill me? From that point forward, death was part of my life. We would eventually load into helicopters, descending into confrontations ambivalent, yet assured we were young, invincible warriors. We were convinced the South Vietnamese people needed us; many of them did. Thus, our mission was simple: save the innocent and banish the enemy to Hell!

The first time we touched down on Vietnam soil, we mechanically spread out in combat formation. Immediately, everything I was taught to watch out for rushed through my mind: “Was the enemy around us?” “Was I standing near an enemy grenade trap, or stepping toward a punji pit filled with sharpened bamboo spikes?” Seeing our company walking through the low brush gave me comfort, until an unexpected explosion deafened our senses. We immediately hit the ground and went into combat mode, establishing our zones of fire. There was nothing to think about except engaging the enemy. We were ready for battle.

We waited, but heard no gunfire or rockets exploding, only a few Marines speaking several hundred feet away. One yelled, “I can’t F’N” believe it!” We learned our first meeting with death was due to one of our brother’s grenade pins not being secured; we assumed it was pulled out by the underbrush. Regardless, he was dead. Staring at his lifeless body, I felt the loss of youthful innocence gush away.

One engagement began with us being plunged into chaos from helicopters hovering a few feet off the ground. We anxiously leapt—some fell—into the midst of an already heated battle. The enemy sprung a deadly assault upon us. I became engrossed in the shock, fear, and adrenaline rush of battle. It was surreal! It was also not the time to ponder the killing of another human being, recall the rationale behind the ethics of war, or become absorbed in the horror of men slaughtering each other. Thoughts of war’s demons certainly were not on my mind.

When the killing ceased and the enemy withdrew, I remained motionless, exhausted from the fighting. With only a moment to think about what had just occurred, the shock, hate, and anger were buried under the gratitude of being alive. I had to find out which brothers did or did not survive, and as I turned to view the combat zone, I witnessed the reality of war: dreams, friendships, and future plans vanished. We knelt beside our brothers, some dead, many wounded, and others screaming in pain. A few lay there dying silently. 

As I moved about the carnage, I noticed a lifeless body, face down, and twisted abnormally in jungle debris. I pulled him gently from the tangled lair, unaware of the warrior I had found. Masked in blood and shattered bones, I was overwhelmed with disgust and a primal obsession for revenge as I realized the warrior was my mentor, hero, and friend.

My voice fragmented, I spoke at him as if he were alive: “Gunny, you can’t be dead! Son-of-a-bitch, you fought in WWII and Korea, how can you die in this God for-shaken country! Get up Marine!” Tears seeped down my face; I whispered that he would not be forgotten. I placed him gently in a body bag, slowly pulling the zipper closed over his face, engulfing him in darkness.

Navy Corpsmen—our extraordinary brothers—worked frantically to salvage traumatized bodies. We did our best to ease the pain of the wounded as they prayed to God Almighty. “With all my heart I love you, man,” I told each friend I encountered. However, some never heard the words I said, unless they were listening from Heaven. I was unaware of the survivor’s guilt brewing deep inside me.

In two or three weeks our mission was completed; we flew by helicopter from the jungle to the safety of the ship. None of us rested. Instead, we remembered faces and stared at the empty bunks of the friends who were not there. I prayed for the sun to rise slowly, in order to delay the forthcoming ceremony for the dead.

Early the next morning, we stood in a military formation on the aircraft carrier’s deck. I temporarily suppressed my emotions as I stared upon the dead. Rows of military caskets, identical in design, with an American flag meticulously draped over the top, made it impossible to distinguish which crates encased my closest friends. As taps played, tears descended. For the first time I understood, that in war, you never have a chance to say goodbye. I pledged silently to each of my friends that they would never be forgotten: A solemn promise I regretfully only kept through years of nightmares or hallucinations.

Combat is vicious; rest is brief; destroying the enemy was our mission. We fought our skillful foes in many battles, until they or we were dead, wounded, or overwhelmed. Engaging enemy troops was horrific in both jungles and villages. We had to either accept or build psychological boundaries around the terror.

Nonexistent were the lines of demarcation; we constantly struggled to identify which Vietnamese was a friend and which was a foe. The tormenting acknowledgment that a woman or child might be an enemy combatant had to be confronted; it was often an overwhelming decision to make. I was not aware of the change in my demeanor. In time, I merely assumed I had adjusted emotionally to contend with the atrocities and finality of war. I acquired stamina, could endure the stench of death, eliminate enemy combatants with little or no remorse, suppress memories of fallen companions, and avoid forming new, deep-rooted friendships. I struggled to accept the feasibility of a loving Lord. I never detected the nameless demons embedding themselves inside of me.

At the end of my tour, I packed minimal gear and left the jungle battlefields of Vietnam for America, never turning to bid farewell or ever wanting to smell the pungent stench of death and fear again. Within seventy-two hours, I was on the street I left fourteen months prior, a street untouched by war, poverty, genocide, hunger, or fear. 

I was home. I was alone. Aged well beyond my chronological years of nineteen, I was psychologically and emotionally confused. I was expected to transform from a slayer back into a (so-called) civilized man.

Except for family members and several high-school friends, returning home from Vietnam was demeaning for most of us. There were no bands or cheers of appreciation or feelings of accomplishment. Instead, we were shunned and ridiculed for fighting in a war that our government assured us was crucial and for an honorable cause. I soon found that family, friends, and co-workers could never truly understand the events that transformed me in those fourteen months.

I changed from a teenage boy to a battle-hardened man. I was not able to engage in trivial conversations or take part in the adolescent games many of my friends still played. For them, life did not change and “struggle” was a job or the “unbearable” pressure of college they had to endure. It did not take me long to realize that they would never understand; there is no comparison between homework and carrying a dead companion in a black zipped bag.

The media played their biased games by criticizing the military, never illuminating the thousands of Vietnamese saved from mass execution, rape, torture, or other atrocities of a brutal northern regime. They never showed the stories of American “heroes” who gave their lives, bodies, and minds to save innocent people caught in the clutches of a “controversial” war. For years, my transition back to society was uncertain. I struggled against unknown demons and perplexing social fears. I abandoned searching for surviving comrades or ever engaging in conversations of Vietnam.

Worse, I fought alone to manage the recurring nightmares, which I tried to block away in a chamber of my mind labeled; “Do not open, horrors, chaos and lost friends from Vietnam.” However, suppressing dark memories is almost impossible. Random sounds, smells, or even words unleash nightmares, depression, anxiety and the seepages of bitterness I alluded to before. I still fight to keep these emotions locked away inside me. 

Today, my youth has long since passed and middle age is drifting progressively behind me. Still, unwelcome metaphors and echoes of lost souls seep through the decomposing barriers fabricated in my mind. Vivid memories of old friends, death, guilt, and anger sporadically persevere. There may be no end, resolution, or limitations to the demons’ voices. They began as whispers and intensified—over decades—in my mind.

“Help me, buddy!” I still hear them scream, as nightmares jolt me from my slumber. I wake and shout, “I’m here! I’m here my friend,” and envision their ghostly, blood-soaked bodies. I often wonder if more Marines would be alive if I had fought more fiercely. “I had to kill!” I remind myself; as visions of shattered friends, and foes hauntingly reappear at inappropriate times.

Guilt consumes my consciousness as I recall the mayhem of war, and what we had to do to survive. As well I question: Why did I survive and not them? Most horrible, however, is the conflicting torment I feel when I acknowledge that I am thankful it was others instead of me.

Regardless of which war a person fought, I am sure many of their memories are similar to mine, as many of mine are to theirs. I never recognized the persistence of the demons, nor realized how quickly they matured deep within my soul. Disguised and deep-rooted, the demons cause anxiety, loneliness, depression, alcohol abuse, nightmares, and suicidal thoughts; traits that haunt many warriors for a lifetime. For thirty-five years, I would not admit these demons were inside me, and believed seeking medical assistance for what was going on in my mind, was a weakness in a man.

It was not until the first Gulf War began in 1990, that I sensed the demons were again bursting from within. No matter how hard I tried to avoid them, I could not escape the vivid images and news coverage of every aspect of the war. Eventually, the bodies and faces in the media were not strangers anymore; they were the faces of my brothers from a much older and forgotten war. Encouraged by peers and several family members, I finally sought assistance from VA doctors, who immediately diagnosed me with PTSD and began an ongoing treatment program.

During my third or fourth group therapy session at the VA, the psychiatrist leading the meeting persuaded me to speak about myself, starting with my overall thoughts of my tour in Vietnam, but then focusing on what I accomplished instead of what I lost. After a long hesitation, I told them the greatest accomplishment in Vietnam was the hundreds of people our teams personally saved from rape, torture, or savage death.

We did not give a damn about the politicians and college students arguing back home, or running off to Canada to avoid the draft. We were enlisted Marines, on the front lines, protecting innocent people caught up in a horrific war.

My most positive moment, I continued, was when I lifted a three-year-old girl from the rubble that separated her from her parents, who were slaughtered by the Viet Cong for giving us rice the day before. Though traumatized and trembling in fear, she reached up to me, and I cradled her gently in my arms and made her smile for only a moment. I handed her to one of our extraordinary corpsmen and continued to seek out the enemy who committed these atrocious murders. It was then I understood why I was in Vietnam.

However, as with everything I masked in my subconscious, I obscured that moment of compassion for decades until this small therapy group encouraged me to glance back and look for positive events buried within the worst of my war memories.

Regarding my post-war years, the doctor asked me to focus on my career, an area where he knew I had some success. I explained that when I left the Marines after four years, I was youthful and confident in myself. I had no clue what depression and anxiety were, and I thought the nightmares were personal and temporary. I was determined to look forward and in no way back to the war. Unfortunately, today I realize that while constantly looking forward helped me avoid chaotic memories of war, it also cloaked the memories of my formative younger years and positive events throughout my life.

I never relished talking about myself and thought it would be a good time to stop. However, the group asked me to continue. As peers, they knew I needed to feel a purpose, and not think my life was a second-rate existence. I was reluctant; as I looked around the room and knew many of the Vets succumbed to PTSD early in life and did not fare as well as I did. I felt I was about to sound like a wimp, or worse, a self-centered ass.

Awkwardly, I began to tell them - with many gaps - about my career after Vietnam. My first recollection was one they all understood. I went through eleven or twelve jobs feeling totally out of place. Watching sales managers gather their teams, and with fanatical enthusiasm tell us how great we were, and together we would attain the highest sales revenue, whipping all other regions. To me, compared to combat in the jungles of Vietnam, this was a game. 

Feeling extremely frustrated within the environment of civilian life, I was ready to head back to the military. However, before reenlistment happened, I got married to my current wife of 40 plus years, who will be the first to tell you living with a type-A personality with PTSD is often a living hell, especially since she had no idea what I was battling. But, neither did I. Like millions of warriors before me, I never spoke to anyone about the war, or the nightmares that abruptly woke me, soaked in sweat and tears.

I decided not to reenlist and pursued a career in business. After numerous jobs, I finally landed a position with a bank repossessing cars - a small-scale adrenalin rush, at times. Within five years, I worked my way up to branch manager.

Bored, of my repetitive tasks in banking, I accepted an offer from a very large computer company to join as a collection administrator. Though it seemed as if it was starting over, I was promoted into management within a year. Focusing on new business challenges aided me in keeping the demons at bay. Subsequent promotions followed.

Within roughly eight years, I was selected to attend Syracuse University to attain a degree in Management - paid by the company at full salary. I continued to accept challenging positions in finance, marketing, business development, sales, and world travel. 

At first, traveling to other countries was great, but after the second or third twenty-one-hour flight to Bangkok or Singapore, it got old quick. I began to realize boredom and repetition were major catalysts for my emotional setbacks; having too much time to think was a recipe for falling hard into the bowels of PTSD.

As years passed, anger, frustrations, mood swings, and depression were common events affecting me, my family and career. I stopped moving forward and spent more time battling the memories of the past. It was at that time I understood the demons never leave; they simply wait for a sliver of weakness to overwhelm you.

Consequently, these conditions, as well as heightened road-rage, quick to anger, and sometimes not able to carry on an articulate conversation, I unenthusiastically retired early from my very well-paying job. This, of course, decreased my income significantly, and opened new crevices in my rapidly deteriorating armor. The demons seized a stronghold; they are persistent.

I have still not won the battle against the demons, but, with the help of therapy, outside physical activities, medications and writing; I look ahead again. The demons continue to haunt me with nightmares, depression, memory loss, anxiety and the need for solitude.

Although I am not able to sit down with a vet and talk about war, I have taken on a cause through writing stories, to reach out to young and senior veterans to help break the stigma of PTSD, by seeking reinforcement. It took me, with present-day support from younger vets at the Journal of Military Experience [], over the course of six years to finalize this story. I mention this so others can move forward in his or her life; by knowing what I and others know now.

I wish someone cited the following recommendations to me earlier in my life; although being young and macho I probably would not have listened. However, here are a few suggestions from one old warrior, to those of all ages:

Breakthrough the stigma of PTSD and get medical assistance - PTSD is real!

Unless you are in a high-risk job, you will probably not experience the adrenaline rush and finality of your decisions as you did in combat. For me, I lived by playing business games - never finding the ultimate adrenaline rush again. It is a void within me, I think about often.

The longer you wait for treatment, the harder it will be to handle the demons. They do not go away and can lay dormant in your soul for decades.

Understand that it is never too late in your life to begin looking forward and achieving new objectives.

If you do not want to speak about PTSD with your family or friends, then hand them a brochure from the VA that explains what to look for, and why you need their support. You do not have to go into detail about the tragedies of war, but without your loved ones’ understanding of your internal battle, your thoughts can lead to divorce, loss of family, relationships, or suicide – a terrible waste of a hero. Silence and solitude is not the answer! If you have PTSD you may not be able to beat it alone.

If you are concerned about your military or civilian job, seek help from peer resources. They have experienced what you have been through and will help keep you living in the present, instead of the past.

Or contact a person in a peer support group anonymously. They will not know you but will talk for as long as you wish.

You cannot explain the horrors of war to someone that has not experienced it, except maybe a PTSD psychologist.

Get up off your ass and take a serious look into yourself! Accept the fact that if you have continuous nightmares, flashbacks, depression, bursts of anger, anxiety, or thoughts of suicide, you have PTSD. If so, talk to someone who can help.

There is also financial assistance through the VA, which may help you avoid living a life of destitution.

Finally, let your ego and macho image go. There are many individuals and groups today wanting to help you. If you do not seek help, you may find yourself alone and bitter for a lifetime. The demons are not going away, but with help, you can learn to fight them and win one battle at a time. Please contact the resources below!

Semper Fi!

[AW Schade; a Marine, Vietnam 1966/67, retired corporate executive and author of the award-winning book, Looking for God within the Kingdom of Religious Confusion. A captivating, comparative, and enlightening tale that seeks to comprehend the doctrines and discord between and within Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Secularism. What the seeker discovers, transforms his life forever!]


"I could hear Elvis singing as tears fell on the last page of the book. One of the best short stories I've ever read." -- Amazon reviewer

Archie Johnson thought he was prepared to meet his death in the electric chair. 
The sentence had been read; he had had his last meal and the prison chaplain had asked God to have mercy on his immortal soul. Then, just as they were strapping him in, he suddenly realized there were a few things he wanted to do before he left this earth.
This story has been called a "dead man's dream."


A story by Domenic Marinelli


It was 1989; I was seven. My parents and I had left the comforts of New York for a trip back to my father’s birthplace of Parella, Italy. It was a small town of about two hundred people.

What I remember most about the trip was the freedom I had. I could wander the town walking from one end to another all alone, exploring and going on private adventures.

It was on one particular day that my walk took me to a less populated area where the alleys were narrow and the buildings seemed all but abandoned. I walked slowly, trying to take it all in, when suddenly I could see a small open fire in the distance. It was at the mouth of a small alley. The fire drew me closer, and the air smelled oddly of a scent I associated with Christmas Eve. It wasn’t until I was standing a few feet away from the fire that I noticed the small pan of chestnuts sitting above the bright orange flames.

A noise startled me from deep within the darkness of the alley. An old man was standing there, staring at me through grey eyes that were both menacing and kind. We stared at each other that way for the longest time, until he motioned me forward.


It was dusk, and my father saw me returning from the distance; I could see him waving me home from the front door of the house he’d grown up in. “How was today’s adventure, Ademo?” he asked me when I got closer.

“Fine, Dad,” I said as I squeezed by him.

He tousled my hair before I was out of his reach and into the hall bathroom.

I stared into the mirror, as I do now all these years later, wondering about the hidden corners of the world and the human spirit, where darkness covers all, and the soul suffers most.


(Copyright 2017 - Domenic Marinelli)

Domenic Marinelli is the author of Weathered Tracks, Save … Act – A Collection of Ten Stories, Miles In The Dark, Beneath The White Darkness, 13 Years of Lamentation, Resonant Words (articles) and Strays In The Cold. He is also a freelance writer who has contributed various pieces to many publications including The Sportster, The Gamer and Steel Notes Magazine.


Doesn’t look like Phoenix with all the cloud cover. It looks more like Atlanta this time of year. Must be climate change.

The weather in Phoenix was not what he expected on a spring day. The overcast was a blanket of gloom obscuring the blue skies and sunshine above the cloud layer. And sure, it was early morning, but it was also uncharacteristically cool in the valley. The permanent residents felt teased by the extended relief from the burning heat in their throats and lungs, and the melanoma attacks on their skin that was to come. They welcomed the relief of the cool weather. The late-arriving snowbirds had a different take on the weather in Phoenix. They longed to bask in the heat so they could thaw from the winter weather at home. They were disappointed. The temperature was cold enough to prevent them from belly flopping into the hotel pools. The forecast said the overcast would be rolling out of the valley by late afternoon, and by the next day, the thermometer would see a slight rise in the mercury.

He took the first flight out of Atlanta, 6:00 a.m. He thought because of the early a departure it would be quiet on the plane and he could catch a badly needed power nap during the four-hour flight, but he was wrong. He hated to be wrong about anything. It was a family trait. The other passengers, he guessed, had stopped at Starbucks to get jacked on the caffeine. And it seemed to him every rambunctious child on the plane, having had a pound of sugar for breakfast, found a seat around him on the full plane. The parents of the unleashed, ill-behaved cherubs wanted to get to grandma’s house early for Mother’s Day. Upon their arrival, the grandparents would hover over the kids while mom and dad tried to find a place to decompress.

Why did God have to put children on the earth? Couldn’t He, or She, or whatever found a better way––like instant twenty- one? It’s too early for the little demons to be awake. There should be a law against kids being on airplanes to punish me so early in the morning. I wouldn’t think of dragging Kyle along this early. Breathe in, hold, and breathe out, only three and a half hours to go.

He made every attempt to close his eyes and rest his head against the seatback hoping one of the parents of the wildlings, would take pity on him and show mercy. They didn’t, believing everyone loved children, theirs above all. He finally reached into his carry-on that was jammed under the seat in front of him, a gymnastic feat for sure, so he could retrieve his iPhone and earbuds to drown out the head-splitting sounds around him.

Only three hours and fifteen minutes to go.

The music flowing through the headphones worked fairly well for noise cancellation, but the kicking of the back of his seat was out of rhythm with the music. Finally, after three more hours on the plane, relief came when the captain made a public address announcement they would be descending, landing, and at the gate in twenty minutes.

As the aircraft came to a stop at the gate, the door of the Boeing 737-700 opened and he made every attempt to get past, around, or over the rest of the primates to make a break for it. He didn’t make any friends doing so. If one needed an example of what Cro-Magnon man was like, it only took watching a deplaning. While other passengers were fumbling with their carry-on bags in the overhead storage, he grabbed his and managed to get the best on several of them until he burst through the door and into the Jetway Bridge. He got angry glares from mommas trying to open their Winnebago strollers in front of the plane’s exit door.

Finally, in the terminal, he only had to get into the passing lane around slow walking travelers. He hastened his pace as if he were late to an impatient judge’s courtroom. He walked down the downward escalator, turned left, and walked out through the doors of Terminal Four at Sky Harbor Airport to where cars waited for arriving passengers. He stopped to breathe in the fresh morning air but got exhaust and jet fuel instead. He reached the curb and scanned left and right.

A black, late model Mercedes, after a quick beep of the horn, pulled up to him standing on the curb. The driver parked and exited the car. She walked back toward the raised trunk. She met him there and watched as he tossed his carry on into the trunk. He was taller than her and a handsome man. She was a beautiful woman. He closed the trunk then opened his arms to embrace her. She gave him a kiss on the cheek.

He gave his sister a long hug. He knew she needed one. It had been a year since their last embrace. It was Mother’s Day and they were at mom’s funeral. Both had tears in their eyes then, the kind once flowing wouldn’t stop for days.

FaceTime was the best way to stay in contact with one another since airfares weren’t as discounted as advertised. He didn’t want to leave home, the place where he grew up, but the paycheck decided for him. His Ivy League law degree was worth more in Atlanta than in Phoenix. And, Peter was there.

She couldn’t bring herself to pull up stakes and resettle in an unfamiliar place with her husband and two kids. Arizona had every conceivable scenery––mountains, deserts, rain and petrified forests, Kartchner Caverns, meth-colored lakes, and cliff- dwellings long vacated by the Native Americans for casinos on the reservations. To find all those climates and breathtaking views would require traveling around the earth. No, Phoenix would always be her home. She had deep roots there, extended family, and mom and dad. She decided to live in their house after both parents had passed. Unlike her brother, she hated change. They hurried for the warmth inside the car. Both car doors slammed shut simultaneously.

“I thought Peter and Kyle would come out with you,” she said.

“They were, then a capital murder case popped up late last night. You know how Peter gets when an inmate on Death Row stares at the clock as it ticks down to zero hours and the ‘three-drug cocktail’ is about to be delivered. Ten years of appeals from the man’s court-appointed attorneys failed to produce a re-trial or leniency. The guy’s guilty. Peter was called in because of his expertise and reputation of turning death penalty cases into life imprisonments. He sends his love by the way.”

“How’s Kyle? I was sure he’d come to see his aunt,” she said.

“Kyle is in non-stop motion from the time his eyes open in the morning until he crashes at bedtime. He’s so intuitive about things. He asks questions way beyond his age. He’s curious and analyzes everything in detail. He hates any change in his environment, like you. We adopted him and love him so much, but I swear he’s your kid. He’s doing great in kindergarten.

We had an interesting thing pop up a few days ago. After school, he asked me what a ‘Homo’ was? Some father, picking up his kid up, said to him, ‘There’s the little homo!’ The other parents say things about Peter and me, and he doesn’t understand. We need to prepare him for grade school, where the older kids will bully him. We’re trying to put that off as long as possible. He’ll be all right in the end. School doesn’t last forever, but the love in our family does.”

“I’d like to see those parents on my operating table sometime.”

She looked over her left shoulder to see if she could drive away from the curb while he spoke. The warning feature in her side mirror wasn’t flashing, but she hadn’t convinced herself to trust it yet. Sometimes trust took a long time to earn. When she saw there was no traffic, she launched out of the parking space and drove to the house. The kids wouldn’t be home from school for hours. Robert wouldn’t be home from the Tempe ASU campus until six as long as the traffic on I-10 weren’t backed up because of another accident. They had time to themselves, so brother and sister could do as they planned.

“Now I’m disappointed Kyle didn’t come.”

She crossed over five lanes to get into the far left lane. Her turn was next. She exited on 44th St. and it was a straight shot to the house in Scottsdale from there. Mom and dad had been in the house a long time. They bought the house in the fifties, before air- conditioning was common in Phoenix. They had it installed as soon as the first summer ended. It was a long, ranch-style house with a stunning garden and back patio area where the family would spend most evenings together, whenever mom wasn’t flying a trip for the airline.

“So the last time we spoke you said you were looking for a larger suite of offices for the firm.”

“We’ve definitely outgrown where we are. We’ll have to relocate before the end of the year if we get one more client. We already handle half of the criminal cases in Fulton County. How about you, Dr. Cochran? When will you leave the hospital and start your own practice? Get your doctor feet wet, or as mom would say, ‘Fly solo,’ I believe.”

“It scares me, taking that chance. The hospital is a steady paycheck. It’s hard to save these days with the economy the way it is, and the kids get more expensive every year,” she said.

“Mom wouldn’t let you get away with that conservative thinking. She wanted a rebel for a daughter, a risk-taker like her.”

“Yes, she did. Robert loves teaching at ASU. He loves the astrophysics department, the students, and the whole campus atmosphere. Robert would have gone to school the rest of his life if he could. He loves to learn and do research. His department is involved in research for NASA. We could move to Tempe so he wouldn’t have so far to commute, but the kids like their school. They’re involved with all sorts of things at school. Kelly is on the soccer team and, at her age, friends are important to her. Brian is on the baseball team. He and his friends spend the day playing video games after homework and baseball practice.”

“Mom would say you have to take chances. You can’t protect yourself from the future. I think you’re hiding behind your fear of change. Before long, it’ll be too late and all you would have collected will be dreams that stayed dreams, and not great stories to tell the grandkids like mom used to say,” he said.

She stopped for a red light and stared straight ahead. His head swung left and right to see the neighborhoods and strip malls. The light changed.

“Yeah, well, mom was bigger than life, and I could never compete with Jane Cochran no matter what I did. She trained other female pilots to fly military aircraft during World War II––her beloved WACs. After the war, she was the first woman to break the sound barrier. I don’t remember how many flying records she broke. I took all of those plaques down months ago. As a civilian, she broke down even more barriers. She opened the door to the airlines for women. Mom had logged more flight time going into the airlines than any man applying. I went to med school, and I always believed I broke her heart because I did,” she said.

“What’s wrong with your accomplishments in medicine? You’re a nationally recognized oncologist, Chairperson of the department. You broke quite a few barriers of your own, big sister. They don’t pale in mom’s shadow. Mom was mom. She started flying DC-3s, trained up to the Electra turbo-props and flew the first jet-powered Boeing. She flew everything between that and the A380. I don’t think she missed landing her airplane anywhere in the world. But you’ve saved lives in your career! They were so proud of you graduating a doctor of medicine, making discoveries, and becoming head of the department. They were proud when I graduated from law school, but they weren’t proud of my being a criminal attorney and keeping felons out of prison. I not only live in their shadow, I live in yours,” he said.

She looked at him with a disbelieving face. She couldn’t believe he felt that way.

“I think you followed into greatness by being daddy’s girl. He was always easier going, never trying to conquer some speed record. He cherished his little girl and what she had done with her life. You know he did, mom too. All that tinkering with him on cars taught you to tinker with biology and make discoveries. The only time I saw dad with disappointment in his eyes, was when I came out, but he never said a word about it. He just loved me no matter what,” he said.

She made a few turns on city streets that brought them to the house, which was impossible to see with the surrounding foliage and trees. He could see to the west the massive hospital where his sister worked. He had pushed her about her own practice but understood why she could never break away. He was more surprised he did. They sat in the car.

“Did it bother you that dad was disappointed?” she said

“Of course, how could I not be? But while other parents threw their sons out into the street, and never spoke to them again, I always had a home filled with love. I was lucky. And I was lucky, I guess, that I was more like mom. She taught me to protect myself, to never let anyone trash me for who I am. She taught me to stand on my own two feet and not let anyone get into my head because she used to say, ‘that’s where the battles are lost.’ Her strength and wisdom got me through law school and followed me throughout difficult times in life.”

She parked in the driveway and they got out of the car. The philosophical discussion ended. They wanted the keep the visit a happy reunion with the ones they loved.


The old man sat in his rocking chair at the narrow patio of the farm house. The time was 6.00pm. The evening breeze caressed his hair, the territorial birds already landing in their flocks, singing a series of consort before they roost.
The orange sun was only visible as the rays of light had returned back into the already dimming sky.

The old man took a fork and picked a die of pineapple from a fruit salad dish beside him. He still held the piece of pineapple and was carried far away into his own fleeting thoughts.
His state of mind was a mental reproduction of what was laid out before him. His thoughts came like the evening breeze; it came in one direction, ceases and then resumes again, traveling in a different direction. The traveling speed of the breeze was slow as the old man could observe it like a wave passing among the twigs of the plants. - and so was Pa Isaac's thoughts - sluggish.

Pa Isaac had been accustomed to imagining himself a sea god as soon as he sat on that position for an evening relapse. But that particular day was different. He was literally, not feeling as though he was sitting on a coral throne at the bottom of the ocean. Even the distant sound of automobile darting across the bridge some two miles away didn't help his imagination. He felt, rather, like a lonely earth worm buried in a thickening swamp.

Whenever his thought-wave moved in the direction hinting at his failure to take basic responsibility for his granddaughter, he felt as though he had failed in life. And yet, he knew he was nothing short of a failure whenever he remembered that Adah's plights were of his own design. It was Captain Isaac Ben-Bosch (retired), who awoke the sleeping dragon which now savoured his family, ready to gobble her up in piece by piece.
It all started on the day of Adah's initiation to bear the Prophetic Ring.


The morning was cold. At 6.00am, the mist was still upon the field. Leaves on the trees and twigs on the field dripped water. None of them quivered for the breeze was stale.
Pa Isaac was the first to get off his bed that morning. As he opened the main exit, he smiled graciously at what laid in front of his eyes. Although the morning hadn't brought much into view - just thirty yard visibility - but the old man love misty mornings.
He stepped right out of the house and walked into the fog smiling all the way.
Most adults hold a personal superstitious believe; one that only the few consent to speak about. Pa Isaac hold his own superstitious believes about misty fields or gardens.

The old man still held on to his old Kibbutznik teenager mind
 'that taking a few deep and sustained breathes in the middle of a misty field or garden is capable of removing every toxin in the body. That such pneumatic exercise could cleanse the blood, starting from the bone marrow; cleanse the vital organs of the body, especially the heart; and flush out every impurity in the system.
Pa Isaac came to a mid-point inside the field and paused. He threw his arms wide open, shut his eyes and drew the first deep breathe - slowly.

He dragged it on until his lungs could take in no more air; [MISSING PARAGRAPHS].

The clattering and clanging in the kitchen might have livened up the home, but the ladies, particularly Adah, didn't stir in their beds. Pa Isaac allowed the soup to boil for ten minutes before pouring it whole into a strainer set inside the kitchen sink. He refilled the pot with fresh water, poured the mushrooms inside and put it back on fire. The second parboiling lasted for fifteen minutes. He drained the water and set it on fire for a third and the final round.
Cooking the magic soup took him a little more than forty minutes. He hauled the soup off the fire and filtered it into a water flask. He then ground the residue, the mushroom caps, in the electric blender before washing the poisonous pulp down the kitchen sink.
He took good care in cleaning every utensil used in making the magic soup.

Just when the old man had finished securing the filtrate in the water flask as well as removed every trace of mushroom, his wife shuffled out of her bedroom. She paused just outside the kitchen door and cleared her throat. The old man had just poured water into the kettle; he quickly dropped it on fire and swerved about turn.
"Hello Riz. How was your night?" he said, running fast with the words.
The old woman was about to reply but her brief delay seemed like hours to the old man. He had to conquer the silence.
"I said I won't disturb anyone ... Oh! the weather ... We've not had it so cool and sweet for a long while now," he added, with laughter.

The old woman smiled.
"Well, you did wake me up all the same. I thought that someone was chasing rats in the kitchen."
They both laughed to her joke.
"Oh! Something like it; I decided to sterilize our coffee kit today ..."
"Sterilize?" the old woman said, stressing the word.
"Yes! I boiled the first water with which I washed the mugs and the spoons and jug ..."
"Please, Isaac," the old woman cut him short with a shove of the hand in the mid-air. "I'm not interested," she added, turning away into the sitting room, "just fix the coffee. As long as it doesn't take up the whole day."
"Trust me it would be done before you could say nineteen seventy nine!"
The old man made and served his family a kettle of coffee for three.
The rest part of the day drifted by just like a normal Friday at the farm house. Adah was left ample time to read novels and to watch her favorite TV shows; until about 5.30pm when Pa Isaac came in from the field, carrying some lemon and a clove of garlic. He gave the lemons to Adah for peeling and dicing up.

Just as soon as Adah placed the last lemon on the chop board, Pa Isaac entered the kitchen.

"How far have you gone with it?"
"Almost through."
None looked at the other as the old man set fresh water on fire and left. Three minutes later, Pa Isaac walked into the kitchen again.
"Done?" he said, turning off the stove.
"Done," Adah said in a regimental manner.
The old man nodded. Time to commence the ultimate trick [in italics]. He hauled down the family coffee kit from the top of the kitchen cabinet, overturned one of the cups and poured hot water into it.
"May I have some lemon," he said, extending a hand at Adah. The latter carried the whole lemon in a tray, placing it in front of her grand father.
The old man, with a table spoon, scooped some diced up lemon into the steaming cup.

"Okay," he said to Adah, who took the tray again and placed it on the marble platform where it was.
The old man opened the kitchen cupboard and took a small jar of honey. He opened, and with a teaspoon, introduced a generous amount of the golden liquid into the steaming cup. Leaving the spoon inside the cup after he'd stirred the whole mixture, he took a plastic saucer, placed the drink inside it and transferred the load onto Adah.
"Take to your granny."
Adah received the saucer and left to Ma Theresa's bedroom.
The old man then brought down his little secret from the top cabinet. Even though the soup was at three-quarter level, the steam oozed out with a reassuring force that not much temperature had been lost over time.

The old man beat a painful smile to himself. He carried the water flask to the marble platform and went to work; scooping dices of lemon into the water flask. He filled the water flask to full capacity and then screwed tight the cover. He loaded it into a tin saucer, together with two mugs and spoons; on his way to his own bedroom he hollered at Adah to follow him for a discussion. 
Adah entered and sat on the only chair in the room while the old man sat on the bed.

 The old man and the girl talked about her education in a Nigerian University, while they sipped their lemon tea - not same sleep enhancer type as Ma Theresa had - but one with a psychoactive mushroom added. 
The old man had drugged his own granddaughter with a hallucinogen unknown to her; and without her permission. The thought of it in retrospect pushed the old man on the edge, against himself. He felt nasty, foolish, wicked, suicidal; as the tears poured down his cheek on that cool evening.

The old man caught the piece of pineapple between his teeth and munched. The sugary, soured taste was strong enough to distract him from the scourge of his mind. He pounced on the salad dish and devoured it like a pig. When he eventually bit his tongue and stopped in pain, the breeze literally blew his thoughts again into that psychedelic evening with his granddaughter.

In the course of their discussion, the old man shifted a little from the topic.
"What is your granny doing in her room?"
"Daddy promised to credit some money to my account on Monday, or Tuesday," she frowned and brushed her hair backward with her palm. 'I can't remember which exactly, " she said and exhaled audibly, hands on her laps, sitting bolt upright. Then she held her breath and fixed a punching look on a spot in the opposite wall.
The old man smiled and nodded his satisfaction. The organic acid had taken effect.

"Keep calm now, I'll be right back," he said, stood up and went to his wife's bedroom to check on her.

Finding the old woman already fast asleep, he turned back into his own bedroom. As soon as he crossed the door into his room, Adah turned quickly and faced him.
"Grandpa, I don't know what's happening to me ..."
"Feeling sleepy?" the old man stopped suddenly. The girl seemed so real now, the tripping was over.
"Not really, grandpa," she said, looking confused, but not out of her mind. "I think I feel a bit nausea ..." she paused and pondered for a while. "And am seeing colours ... Yes ... And sounds too. I can see the colour of sounds ... We are swimming in strips of orange and green, swirling in grey statics ..." as she spoke like a delirious patient, her legs shivered under her.
Just that same minute, as the old man feared her recovery, she was again hallucinating.
She jolted to her feet, ran up to the old man and held him by the shoulder.
"What time exactly did he arrive?" Adah said, gawking into the old man's eyes. Now the old man was equally confounded.
"I mean my daddy," Adah said grimly with the mannerism of a four year old.
"Oh! You mean he?" the old man cracked a quick laughter, "a couple of hours ago, and we are going now to meet him outside."

So saying, he overturned his mattress and took a metallic briefcase on the wood bedding. He set the number combination and opened it. There was an object wrapped in Scarlet Silk, lying alone in the briefcase. The old man took that, in one hand; dropped the briefcase on the bed and took a torchlight in the other hand. He told Adah to follow him.

Having completely lost her ego, Adah had started acting like a zombie, following every order given to her by her Shaman - orders given verbally and by means of thought transference.
The ritual march to the water front had just begun.

Your completeness is right here in front of you within your grasp, but you’ll never truly be mindful of this until you realize it’s not a story that’s needed, it’s what’s already here.

Without inner silence, it’s very unlikely one will have the mindfulness needed to not create your stories. Even this writing is a story of how not to create stories, but the mindfulness of writing it helps to minimize the attachment to it and thus once it’s written it’s complete. Non attachment is always the key. A story can always be added to, but once something arises ask yourself, is this the end of the story or not? That will depend on how one relates their “I” identity to the story. The more “I” needs the story for its identity, the more “I” attaches to it and the more a story is needed. This is the merry-go-round of the Conditioned Mind. No attachment, no needed story, no needed story, no discontentment of what isn’t, so all you are left with is what is, not the story of it, but the actual reality of what is happening now.

Story after story after story. The story of how I feel, or the story of what I think, or my life’s story, there is an endless creation of stories, that is until one becomes mindful enough that the story teller and the story are seen as one in the same. Being with what is instead of a created story will be the most difficult thing one when ever do in their life, but it will also be the most fulfilling lesson you will ever learn. Just be in the silence of what is, attach nothing and nothing will be needed. Imagine that, needing nothing to be happy, joyous, and free and understanding that you’re complete just as you are. It’s right there within your grasp, it’s right in front of you, but you’ll never truly be mindful of this until you realize it’s not a story that’s needed, it’s what’s already here.

No Time Like The Present:

Looking forward in time to a scenario that never happened.

“You're messing with something that isn’t broke” Toby said. It’s 2020 the century of visionaries and following season 40 the channel no longer saw the Time Team programme as viable. The producer argued with Toby in a clash of ego's “It is broke, you know that viewings have crashed, look now, just give the new format a chance, it’s your only hope” pleaded the producer. Toby remained strenuously unconvinced about it all, after all he was an artist and his crew professional archaeologists  The format had always been what put it head and shoulders above anything else, you see it's reality tv with an insane deadline, three days of a relentlessly ticking clock and Toby to boot,  After running for many years though the producers had extracted every ounce of marrow from the bone. It was Toby against his better judgement now trying to convince the others to embrace change. He didn't like the new concept, script, content or format - it was cheese, leaping from the Pythonesque to the burlesque in a Carry On Digging farce that might see them all stoned in the ratings,  Ambivalent as ever Toby had to sell the idea to the team“Look we are radical, always have been, always will be".

 "Hear, hear" they quipped in agreement.

 "We're in trouble" Toby explained, "and it's time to call time on the time team".

"Nooooooooo" they cried out in anguished unison while Bill scraped the mud off his boots.

"The ratings have flatlined. We've got to look beyond 15 years of grave goods to a future that's braver, sexier, bonier, to one that has all of our original values plus a big named guest" Toby enticed.

  Bill Harding scratched his head, how could he get any sexier?, but the team agreed all the same given the size or their mortgages and the length of unemployment queues, and the rest as they say is history. Here is how it played out till the end of time. This is the story of the last episode that never made it to air. 


Day 1

Toby: This week is a Time Team special and archaeology doesn’t come any better than this. We have a hypothesis and three days using experimental archaeology, cutting edge techniques and Bill Harding to prove it. This episode it's our goal to establish how the unintelligent design of the universe came about, and we will be joined by Sir Gavin Battenborough who will be giving us his own unique insights".

Toby: “Sir Gavin, if evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology with some missing links, is this because we just haven't found them yet?”

Gavin: “The transition from the first living cells into homo sapiens took millions of years Toby. However, evolution hypothesis can be tested even if physical evidence is lacking, much like the periodic table, where we were able to extrapolate what the missing elements were".

Tony: “Quite, extrapolation. So Sir Gavin what do you think of Bill?”

Gavin: “I find him quite interesting, we have sampled Bill and the teams DNA in a unique experiment that will provide us with a direct comparison with our ancestors”.

Toby: “It isn’t brain surgery then is it Sir Gavin, or maybe it could be?”

Gavin: “Only if someone on the team is found to be some form of convergent evolution" Gavin laughed, "but it would be absurd to think we have found the missing link".

Toby: “In three days all will be revealed but now we need to get on with the dig”.

Bill:” This trowel lurks very exciting indeed”.

Toby: “Yes, this simple tool has been at the centre of every dig”.

Bill works at the mud “Hello, whurt the devil is thart? I’ve cleared back all the layers, good lard, good lard”. Bill carefully places some relics in a tray. 

Toby: “What is it?”

Bill: “Oi don’t know” Bill scratches his head. “No mur to say”.

Toby: “Day one, as usual it’s started to rain and who knows what we might find after lunch”.

The crew return after lunch. Toby: “You’re back Bill”.

Bill: “I owes yer nurfing and yer name is mud".

Toby: “With just two days to go Bill is digging a new trench and sulking. Our experts have cleaned the artifacts and consensus is they are iron needles. Rasika is in Bill's old trench. What have you got Rasika?”

Rasika wipes her dirty hands on her breasts. “Plenty, we have uncovered part of a skeleton, which has got us very excited, there’s a bit of white fabric perhaps from a shroud. We are now working as fast as we can but it's getting dark fast”. Rasika bends over sexily in the impending darkness for a lascivious audience.

Day 2

Tony: “Rasika, yesterday you uncovered skeletal remains, what can we expect today”.

Rasika bent over the remains with a brush provocatively. “Today is a real boner, from the pelvis we think this is a man, the skull has a well defined brow. We have all been on quite a buzz actually. Fenella checked parish records which suggest the man buried here is called ‘Mullo’. Rasika smiles at Tony with her newly budded fangs.

Tony: “There we have it, the Mullo family, over to our historian Fenella, when did the Mullo’s arrive here?

Fenella removes her glasses to reveal herself a very attractive, large breasted female with a professors mind and impossibly small waist: “This was a Romany settlement during the 15th century Toby and they made a living as tinkers, repairing pots and cookware. This pot here has bite marks on it which someone has obviously tried to repair”.

Toby: “So the artifacts are bbq skewers”. Fenella: “Exactly”. Toby: “Running across the site I’m trying to find Sir Gavin, has anyone seen Sir Gavin?”

Toby: “Gavin is in the library with geophys”. Gavin looks dark and bloated “Sir Gavin, are you ok”. “Yes, I think I ate something bad, I’ll be alright”. Geophys sit at the bench, staring blankly.

 Toby: “Tomorrow is our last day on site, after which we will all join you in the studio  when we will pull this whole thing together”.

Short Of Time

Day 3 in the studio. The team all return from the field.


“Toby: “Sir Gavin, what is unintelligent design?” 

Sir Gavin wipes blood from his face with a hanky.

He replies“Intelligent design goes hand in hand with those who say there is a designer, a creator, but unintelligent design arises from what we call an accident. Gavin puts a straw to Toby’s neck and takes small sips. “Mitochondrial Eve and y chromosome Adam were just amino’s, and sugars”.

Bill: “How did he eat the apple then? Sur, the bodies I dig up all of ’em have the chemical building blocks fur life but narn of them gets up and walks arf”.

Rasika moves closer to Bill who hits her with a shovel to the floor.

Gavin: “Some do Bill, some do get up and walk”

Bill: “Who?”

Fenella removes her blouse and glasses her teeth glisten with geophys blood: 

“The undead Bill" says Fenella "they do get up and walk - Mullo’s not a family surname" she rants ecstatically, "those artifacts aren't for the bbq they were metal stakes to drive into the heart, the Mullo are vampires” she ended triumphantly pulling her fingers through her wild hair. Fenella had obviously done her research.

Rasika arises horrifically from the floor. Sir Gavin laughs nervously “Superstitious nonsense”. Toby turns over a mirror and blushes while geophys sit staring no longer on the radar.

Toby: “Day three and it’s hard to get to the point. Sir Gavin, what do the results of your study show us?”

Gavin: “Bill’s human origins are the same as the rest of us, but we did identify one small difference and that is a gene specific to the west country. It is responsible for the bad hair and lovely legs, but furthermore, he also carries a special  chromosome, now Toby this is rather special, it is the chromosome for genius!"

They all gasp at the revelation that Bill is in actuality at the pinnacle of human evolution.

Toby: “Fuck”. 

Bill: “Good lard, isn’t that ermazing”.

Cut, cut, go to adverts:

 The TV crew are complaining about sharp bites which had been put down to ticks, 

Toby: "Hold on, hold on, look Rasika is devouring a camera man’s neck, that's no tick",

Bill laughs while supping from Sir Gavin with a straw, in between quick bites at geophys. "Blood Blood gl-erious blood, nothing quite like it for wettin the mud, so swallow man swallow, like yer legs are hollow, and then lerts all wallow in gl-erious blood.

Toby is fighting off Fenella. The studio is turning into a bloodbath.

Then a knock on the studio door.

"Health and Safety" someone calls,  everyone freezes, as in steps an anal looking officer.

“Health and safety advise you to STOP.  Failure to stop will result in a dousing with this holy water". He holds a container aloft. marked Peckham Springs. 

An exorcist makes an entrance.

Everyone hisses.

“Nurt before time” says Bill.

The End.

Truly that was the last episode, it never reached our screens for various religious and disgustation reasons of poor taste. Time was finally up for the Team, not because of the new format with its sexual content, or the thinly disguised innuendo and hostility between the presenter and cast. Neither was it remotely anything to do with the unintelligent design of the universe. Sir Gavin Battenborough, a national treasure, made a full recovery. No, it was because they had breached both UK and EU health and safety laws. Archaeologists were harmed during the filming of this production, some suffered blood lust, puncture marks, death or died, or were undead while others were sexually exploited gratuitously and then deceased.   No priests were harmed but none were actually trained sufficiently to deal proficiently with the health and safety risks posed by a supernatural event. What happened to the film?, well it's locked safely in the vaults of hell where it belongs for all eternity on UK Gold. There is no budget for any further incarnations or reincarnations, alas it is the end unless you can wake the dead...... 
Lucky Break       5,258 words.                            Copyright © Arthur Hall 2016.                                                                                                 Isaura came out of the shadows and placed the food carefully in front of me.  The noon sunlight streamed through the single window, and the faint smell of her cooking had followed her from the kitchen.      'Is all right, Senor?'         I told her she was a wonderful cook, that her paella was the best I'd ever tasted. She gave me a wide white smile and looked embarrassed, as if she wasn't used to compliments.         I thought, not for the first time in the seventeen days since my arrival here, how unusual it was for The Sector to choose a place like this for a safe-house. She was in her late twenties, I'd have guessed, slim and attractive with Spanish swarthiness and long lustrous black hair. But she, like her brother who lived here with her, had an innocence that was distinctly un-typical of the twilight organisation that controlled them and, to a certain degree, controlled me also.           I supposed that they'd been chosen, or more likely coerced, because their demeanour itself acted as a kind of concealment. When you're an opposition cell searching for a place where our agents wait or rest between or during missions, your first expectation wouldn't be a brother and sister who looked too innocent to have had much experience of life outside their village, let alone of this sort of work.  A much-altered attitude from that of the last few decades, yes, but we live in a rapidly changing world. With the advent and introduction of computers, mobile phones and other technology, communications - one of the most vital necessities of a mission - have altered to the point where I'm glad to be near the end of my active service. I'm past the age where unfamiliarity is absorbed easily.   This situation had begun when Ierston had phoned me, while I was on holiday alone in Portugal. He's the right-hand man in The Sector now, whose function is mostly to convey the orders of the unknown Minister who runs it. I managed to control my annoyance at the interruption; it would have been futile to object anyway because there's a clause somewhere in the contract that allows London to call on us at any time if anyone whispers the magic word: 'crisis'. Not that this fitted that description, so far. The orders were to be on the next Lisbon-Madrid flight, then hire a car and make my way to the outskirts of the capital. After that, and a meeting with a local contact, a further half hour brought me to Vista Alegre, a village with, despite its name, no happy view that I could see.      As is usual for him, Ierston had been decidedly uncommunicative. My orders were to establish myself in the safe-house and as a tourist around the village. Not far from the cathedral was the house of Raul Lobato, one of The Sector's people stationed in Madrid who I knew slightly from our training days. If he returned to his home here I was to inform Hickey, my Local Control, at once. From this I concluded
that Lobato had probably gone missing, but neither Ierston nor Hickey would be drawn on the subject. For seventeen days, I had watched and waited.  I finished my meal and took a long drink of water. I had a standing arrangement with Hickey, to be near the central square every day at 12.25 precisely and he'd turn up if he had anything to tell me. So far we'd met twice, during the period when surveillance of Lobato's house was taken over by local people. Twenty-four hour observation cannot be sustained by one man for an extended period: we all have to sleep.       I said a temporary adios to my hostess and walked unhurriedly through the sunshine. Like the narrow streets, the tall old shuttered buildings gave a lot of shade and I stayed close to each one as I passed. There was very little activity at this time of day - I counted two ancient vehicles and three elderly black-clad women before I reached the square. I took in the scene slowly. On three sides were the blank walls of storage buildings and a couple of small houses, while most of the fourth was taken up by a cantina. Two men sat outside smoking with full glasses in front of them, talking animatedly and well out of earshot. In the centre was a statue of a man in armour - I'd yet to identify him because the inscription on the base was worn - surrounded by a low wall which had once also contained a fountain. On this wall a man in a lurid shirt and shorts sat, eating something out of a packet in the shadow of the statue. I checked all around once more, and went across.           'I hope you're enjoying that, Hickey. It's full of sugar and colouring and has as much beneficial content as a cow-pat, probably less.'     He stood up, looking at his food with distaste. 'Just something to keep me going. You weren't followed here?'        'Don't insult me. I've been in this game a lot longer than you.'   'Sorry,' his eyes swept the square, 'I was forgetting how experienced you are. For the last few months I've been working with new entrants.'    'I know, but this time you can relax. So, tell me what's changed.'   There was a moment's pause while he gathered his thoughts, and I watched him as he struggled with the heat. He was of medium height with a ruddy face, and hair so perfectly in place that I'd decided it must be a toupee. His accent was broad East London with an occasional lilt of Welsh. I'd no idea of his origin or background but I was confident in him because he'd successfully Local Controlled several difficult overseas missions in the last year.       'I've just come out of signals with London,' he said quietly. 'I can tell you now why we're here.'  Communications are different now. The old signals equipment needed an operator in a safe-house and was slower, but since the technological revolution of recent years it's just a matter of access to a tablet or an iPhone, brought in or purchased in whatever country the mission is running. All seasoned Sector agents were suspicious and doubtful at first but, once the secure channels were established and confirmed as 96% minimum effective, the advantages were obvious. Nevertheless, the old rule stood fast: the risk to an agent of being caught with a device connected to London was considered too great. Hence the continued necessity for Local Control, to act as a relay.  'I'm listening.'  'Lobato's been turned.'  I checked the cantina again. 'What a surprise.'
 'He's made his way back here at last, as we thought he would, eventually. His intention is to give Aguila to the Cali Cartel.'  'I thought that group was finished.'  'They are of course. The Rodriguez Orejuela brothers and their partner Jose Santacruz Londono are no longer in business, but their successors from El Cartel del Norte del Valle, that's the North of the Valley Cartel to you, are still active. These bastards still have considerable markets for their cocaine in Europe. Aguila, as you know, is the Sector's man inside the Cartel. For him to be exposed would be a major setback.'  I nodded. 'So the idea is that I get to Lobato, before the Cartel does?'  'That's right. Contact is expected within the next few hours.'   'Be specific, then. How far am I to take this?'      Hickey's gaze wandered across the dried-up fountain bed without turning his head. Then his eyes locked onto mine. 'Ierston says bring Lobato back if you can. Otherwise, well… it's up to you.'        I hate it when they do this. It's called 'agent's discretion' and you can never tell about the outcome. Some London Controls are reluctant to take responsibility for ordering a termination for fear, in these days of political correctness, of career damage if there's a leak to the press, so it's sometimes convenient to lay the blame on the agent concerned. Others don't give a damn, as long as the job is done. On reflection, I put Ierston down as one of these.      'Is Lobato in the house now?' I asked Hickey.     'No, but he'll be there soon. As I said, our information is that he's meeting someone from the Cartel later today, so you'll have to work fast. It would be better all round, I think, if you could be gone before he arrives.'     'Then call your men off, I'm going in.'             #
A short while later I left Hickey. I drank coffee in the cantina, to give him time to tell his local men to abandon their surveillance of the house. Then I drove my hired SEAT across the village, past the single supermarket and the half-finished hotels, and parked down the street in the shade of a drooping palm.    I approached the house cautiously, listening for any sounds as I entered through the small front garden. The place showed neglect, the walls and roof needed attention, and the tendrils of overgrown plants wound across the path like serpents.           At the door I controlled my breathing, keeping very still as I listened.  Silence.          I waited for several minutes, hearing nothing but a passing local bus.  The door opened easily, and I stepped into a darkened room aware that Lobato could be expecting me, or someone like me, in which case I was walking into a trap. This was quite feasible: Lobato had, after all, undergone Sector training. Hickey was experienced at choosing local operatives for surveillance work - I'd read the files on his missions as Local Control in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan - but he could have selected badly, for once. If he had, I had no doubt that Lobato would have quickly become aware that he was under observation.  I didn't move at first, as my eyes adjusted to the half-light. Then the heavy blinds that effectively kept out the sun trembled, as I closed the door behind me.
The room was sparsely furnished, just two armchairs with a table between them, a half-filled bookcase and a large-screen television in a corner. I listened again and heard a door slam. The sound came from the kitchen that adjoined this room. I heard some quick movements, before Lobato came in.  He stopped abruptly, squinting into the poor light when he saw me.   'Lane?' he said. 'My God, I haven't seen you since that bloody training course.'           'It's been a long time. Were you expecting someone else?'    He made an innocent gesture. 'No, of course not. It's just a shock, seeing you after all this time.'               That moment confirmed that he was hiding something. The natural question to ask would have been, 'Why are you here?' or 'How did you find me?' But there was no need for those, because he already knew the answers. He knew The Sector was onto him. I read it in his face.       His years in England had honed his accent, so that his native Spanish hardly showed through. He looked much the same as I remembered, hadn't put much weight on and still moved in quick bursts. The rather sharp features were the same and his hair was still thick, a touch of grey at the temples the only slight difference. 'How are things in Madrid?' I asked him. I meant The Sector's Madrid station, and he would know that.         He shrugged. 'Oh, much the same. We haven't had any trouble with Basque Separatists, for a while. I suppose you have a difficult time with the Syrian problem, in London?'           'They haven't roped me in on that, yet.'      He laughed, rather nervously. 'If I know The Sector they will, before long.' He turned to a decanter, on a side table. 'Care for a glass of local sherry? It's a rather dry Fino, but it's good.'         'Not just now, thanks. I'm here because of something we picked up in London. The Cartel del Norte del Valle are extending their cocaine distribution over here. We wondered if you'd heard anything about that?'      That was as good as telling him that we knew everything because an enquiry like that could have been easily settled over the secure channel in signals. I wouldn't have been sent out on the strength of it. I watched closely, for his reaction.  He removed his hand from the decanter. 'Nothing's come through the grapevine, as far as I know.'  A car backfired loudly in the street outside and I half-turned towards the sound, realising too late that it was the momentary diversion he'd been waiting for. I turned back very fast to face him but he was faster and I moved away instinctively as something burned across my thigh.       He stood in the classical attack stance, and I remembered that he'd achieved the highest score for knife-fighting in the training class. He'd gone for my stomach and would have succeeded if I hadn't moved. His blade was smeared with my blood.  I retreated slowly. 'How could you have been taken in by those bastards? You know their reputation, they're worse than the old KGB. I don't know what they promised you, but what you'll get is a shallow grave out in the woods somewhere.' He made a quick slash that missed my face by inches. 'Not me, I'm too valuable to them.'          'Not any more. You weren't careful enough. The Sector knows all about you.'
 'The Cartel will protect me. I'll disappear.'       The growing tenseness in his eyes told me that I was seconds away from his next attack.          'Oh, you'll disappear, all right.'         'You're not taking me back!'         'That's right, I'm not.'           The tension had reached the point where he could no longer sustain it, and the quickest way to dissipate it was by its transference into action. This time I was ready, and his altered position told me to expect a straight thrust. I swivelled on my right foot and the blade missed my chest so closely that I felt the air-rush, but he was prepared for evasion and drew his arm back. I managed to get in a short extended-finger jab to his stomach, but I missed the solar plexus and he grunted as he slashed crosswise for my throat. This, too, was as close as it could be without cutting the skin and I knew that his next attempt or the one after would hit something vital.          I turned slightly before he could withdraw, gripping his arm above the wrist and pulling him off balance. He'd dropped the knife already, catching it with his free hand and drawing back for a strike to my kidneys, when I went for his trachea with the stiffened edge of my left hand. The knife fell and his eyes went vacant as I released him. He was dead before he hit the floor.     I stood, breathing hard, for several minutes. I was glad that Hickey had given me the choice, it meant that I was spared a lot of interviews and paperwork when I got back to London. Wrapping a handkerchief over my hand, I went into Lobato's bathroom and found the medicine cabinet. The thigh wound was deeper than I'd expected and bleeding freely. He'd kept his knife very sharp as he'd been taught. I applied some antiseptic and a thick gauze dressing and used a lot of tape to keep it in place until I could get to a doctor. The slash in my slacks I could cover by wearing my jacket, which I'd brought in the car, and I'd just have to hope that the bloodstains wouldn't attract too much attention.  I went back and stood over the body. A quick search revealed a 9mm Glock, which I slid into my pocket after checking that it was fully loaded. All I had to do now was lock all the doors and windows and drive to the airport, phoning Hickey on the way. When Lobato's visitor from the Cartel arrived he'd leave as soon as he saw the situation, but apart from that it could be hours before the alarm was raised. I froze as the kitchen door was slammed back again and someone entered. A boy of about fourteen stood transfixed at the sight of Lobato's corpse. After a shocked few seconds, he turned back and ran out through the kitchen with his loose shirt flapping.          '¡Policia! ¡Policia!'         I looked out of the window. He was out of sight, but I could still hear him.  He couldn't have seen me - the angles from where he'd stood were all wrong for that. I breathed deeply to halt the onset of panic, because he'd bring the local force down on me quickly. They'd take one look at the body and I'd be in handcuffs and on my way to a cell. Hickey might not be able to extricate me, before the Cartel decided to find out who'd disposed of their man, and I'd no desire to take them on without some kind of support.  Similarly, if I left now I was merely postponing the inevitable. At the sight of Lobato the police would launch a local man-hunt, and the first place they'd put under observation would be the airport. If there was no body it would delay the
proceedings, while it was ascertained if the boy was a reliable witness and while he was questioned.          It took a few minutes to make sure that there was no possible hiding place in the house. The only other option was to remove the body and I couldn't see how to do that unobserved, until I remembered the large travelling trunk with wheels in Lobato's bedroom.  It wasn't easy, fitting him in. I forced his head between his knees and pressed the lid down, feeling relief flood through me as the latch snapped shut. I wheeled the trunk to the front door and looked back. Thank God there was no blood on the floor. On impulse I went back into the bedroom. Lobato had a lot of clothes. I selected some similar to those he'd worn and carefully arranged them in the living room where he'd fallen. It was a long shot, but it might delay things if the police thought the boy had mistaken them for a body. I decided it was worth a try.  Less than ten minutes had passed since the boy had gone - I calculated it would take him that long to reach the only police post in the village - and now I heard the first sounds of a distant police siren. I closed the door quietly and wheeled the trunk along the street, keeping to the shade where I couldn't be seen easily, to the car.          By the time I'd lifted the thing into the SEAT's boot I was sweating freely. The heat and the weight of the trunk had combined to bring on a state of nearexhaustion and I was reminded for the thousandth time, that my youth is now behind me.           I drove away slowly, relieved that there was no sign, as yet, of police vehicles. Then I realised that the Cartel had been waiting for me, as a white Peugeot emerged from behind a parked gravel truck, two hundred yards back at the end of the street. I didn't think they'd followed me here: I would have known. More likely they'd kept the house under surveillance for a while in case Lobato's duplicity was false, and the bait for a trap. They were thorough, these people: if you put one foot wrong, you were dead. It had happened to Olliphant in Cali, and Cartwright, in Bogota. Penetration was particularly hazardous because of their almost paranoiac level of suspicion.          They stayed in the mirror as I turned onto the main road. Two men, darkskinned, their features indistinct in the reflective glare. They were keeping back by about twenty yards, in case I turned off suddenly. I tried brief acceleration and abruptly slowing, and they matched my speed every time. No mistake, it was the Cartel and they were onto me, possibly wondering where I fitted into the equation.  I let my speed drop as we passed through the tiny shopping area. The few tourist shops had drawn customers out into the heat, and there were a lot of water bottles being carried. A woman in a huge brightly-coloured sun hat stepped into the road as I crawled past the rather old-fashioned hairdressing salon and the driver of the Peugeot frightened her with a blast from his horn. They must have had their windows open, because I heard the string of obscenities clearly.  We left the shops behind and I picked up speed again. I knew they'd decided that I was a likely threat to their operation because the Peugeot kept moving into the centre of the road, waiting for the opportunity to overtake. Oncoming traffic was sparse and would soon cease altogether, as we approached an intersection where there was nothing to see but a couple of abandoned cars and some rundown concrete apartments with a washing line strung between them.
 The Peugeot accelerated rapidly, just as the cathedral came up to the left of us, and I thought that the next few seconds would decide the whole thing because the man in the passenger Seat was holding something that projected out of the window. I caught a glimpse of a light rapid-fire weapon, probably an Uzi machinepistol, and braked the SEAT hard. The brakes needed adjusting because they pulled violently to one side, but they probably contributed to saving me. I forced myself backwards, trying to anticipate his line of fire, as the man in the  Peugeot pressed the trigger and the dashboard exploded. The air was full of the smell of burning rubber and hot metal and the SEAT careered behind the Peugeot and across the carriageway, as I fought to regain control. Flashing sunlight seemed all around me as the car began to spin, and I think they were still firing because a tyre blew. I must have turned a complete circle, since the sandstone wall of the cathedral was now directly ahead, rushing towards me and filling the windshield.   I don't remember the moment of impact. I felt tremendous pressure across my chest from the restraining effect of the safety belt, and the front of the SEAT was buckled against the wall. The door was stuck fast and it took three kicks to free it. I looked back at the road and saw that the Peugeot had burst through the restraining fence and was heading towards me with one wing badly dented. The driver put it into a skid to bring it broadside on and I saw that the man with the Uzi was trying to re-establish his aim. Somewhere a woman screamed, and I realised that a door further along the front of the cathedral had opened, and that several people watched. As the shooting began again they disappeared back inside, and I heard the heavy door slam.  I drew Lobato's Glock. These were among the most callous and ruthless killers in the world, but I had a single advantage: they didn't know that I was armed. The Peugeot's passenger door burst open and I flung myself flat as the windows of the SEAT disintegrated in a spray of bullets. The ricochets still buzzed around as I rolled over to use one of the wheels as cover, lying behind it in a prone position and forcing myself to wait until he came nearer. His feet appeared, running towards me and still firing rapidly until I shot both his ankles. He screamed and I heard him fall, I knew I had to move fast before the Peugeot's driver could leave the car: if he was armed similarly he could launch a fusillade without coming nearer, ripping the SEAT apart.  I stood up and risked showing myself. He was already aiming a weapon that looked a lot bigger than the Uzi, and was probably a lot more powerful. A single loud burst rocked the Seat on its springs. I had dropped to a crouch and was now in a position to peer around the end of the car cautiously. I knew I had seconds to live unless I acted fast, and there was only one way I could win against such superior fire-power. I emptied the Glock into the Peugeot, not aiming properly but estimating where the petrol tank should be. It exploded in a ball of flame and I threw myself to the ground again, shutting my ears against the cries. A wave of intense heat passed over me, and the roar of the fire blotted out everything. The smell of burnt fuel, metal and flesh was sickening but I'd no time to think about it: by now some of those in the cathedral would have used their mobiles to contact the policia, and they would be on their way.   I left the shelter of the SEAT. The man whose ankles I'd shot crawled towards me, his flesh blackened and his eyes wild. Somehow he'd survived sufficiently to retrieve the Uzi, and was intent on finishing what they'd begun. He fired two single shots and I heard glass smash somewhere. I wasn't sure if he'd hit the SEAT or the
cathedral's stained windows, but I moved fast because he would have little difficulty, from that position, of altering his aim. I used a savate killer blow, where the kick forces the head back to an impossible angle. I heard something snap, and he lay still. I kicked his gun away from him, because we're trained to take every precaution when we can. Our survival sometimes depends on being absolutely sure. I had to get out of here quickly now, I didn't want to be seen as part of this or to be found with a body in my possession.       Delayed shock was catching up with me. As I hauled the trunk out of the SEAT's boot I began to shake. We're taught things that off-set this condition, because even our Controllers appreciate that we're as human as anyone else and would find it difficult to continue without some sort of assistance.    It isn't often that we get any kind of lucky break, in this profession, but I thought I had one now. When I first arrived in Vista Alegre I did a thorough reconnaissance, including this area. At the side of the cathedral was a labyrinth of narrow alleys, the buildings so close together in places that two people could barely pass. I remembered particularly the smell and the darkness, the rubbishstrewn passages where day was little different from night.    I looked all around me. The fire still blazed, beneath a cloud of dense smoke. There was no sign of life from the cathedral. The late afternoon sun beat down on a lonely scene of death. Pulling the trunk, I walked unhurriedly to the steps that led to the network of passages. I ignored the protests from my bruised body because there was now, after all, a chance. If I could leave the trunk in some dark and hidden corner, it would buy me time to get to the airport.  I dragged the trunk to the top of the steps. As I paused, gripping the centre rail, I heard sirens approaching the cathedral. I looked back but it was out of sight now, and the sirens stopped suddenly. Several narrow passages yawned in front of me. I might have imagined it, but I could have sworn there was organ music from the cathedral. It occurred to me that the congregation might be offering thanks for their preservation from the violence outside.  I quickened my pace, the trunk feeling heavier. At the next intersection I had a choice of paths to follow, and I decided on the one leading at a sharp angle away from the cathedral. This was a street with doors on both sides, narrow enough for a man on horseback to pass but little else. At first there was absolute silence, but after a short while I could hear a girl singing off-key. It was a mournful wail, like someone lamenting the passing of a loved one, and I wondered if she sang because of her incarceration in this dreadful place.       The smell of rotten fruit and urine was overwhelming. I needed a place where the trunk would be concealed for long enough to allow me to get to the airport, but I hadn't seen a possibility yet. These alleys were made up of the flat-walled frontages of dilapidated dwellings. They were deserted now, but I knew they'd come alive at night like similar places I'd seen: Mexico City, Haiti and Tunisia.  A wider exit, like a small cavern, opened up ahead. Every movement echoed as I approached, and too late I realised that I was no longer alone.  Six or seven men stood in my path, all shabbily dressed, silent and threatening. Not one of them could have been more than twenty-five, and I remembered that Isaura had mentioned that gangs of young men sometimes roamed the streets looking for tourists to rob. She had called them Los Lobos. They weren't professionals, just unemployed youths seeking an easier way to make money for their cigarettes and evenings in the tavernas.  
 The worrying thing was the pistol aimed at my face. It looked like a weapon that had seen action in World War Two, but I wouldn't have gambled on its lack of efficiency because it looked well-oiled and cared for.    'What does the box contain, senor?' he held the gun steady. The others crowded around him and leaned forward to inspect the trunk.     He gestured to one of the others, who took two quick steps towards me and snatched the handle.         'Computer hardware.' I lied.        The one who'd taken the trunk picked it up and nodded vigorously, laughing. 'It is very heavy, Juan.'         'And what is it that brings you here, where there are no computers, or shops?' Juan asked suspiciously.         I looked down at the litter-strewn floor, as if ashamed. 'I stole it. La policia are close behind me.'              'We must go,' said one of the others.  Juan looked uncertain for a moment, then the one who had the trunk laughed again. He whispered, 'We can sell this. I know where we can get a good price, in Madrid.'  'Quickly, then.' Juan kept the pistol aimed at my stomach as the trunk was hurriedly wheeled away and the others fled into the shadows. Finally there was only him.           'You would be very foolish to follow us, senor. If you do, you will wish the policia had caught you.'         He backed away until the darkness hid him, and then ran. I waited until the last of his footfalls died away before turning and retracing my steps.   Soon I was back in the square, where the attention of the policia and everyone else in the crowd was centred on the dead men and the smouldering car. I walked around the cathedral to the far side, where I used my mobile to summon a taxi for the airport.   As I saw it approaching I reflected again how rare it is to get a lucky break in this line of work. And then again, to get two lucky breaks is even more so. ...
Book Of The Day

Latest Poem

  A gentle breeze blows in the warm summer air, 
     pebbles and sand beneath my feet.
          An ocean mist sprays my face
            as I uncover my nakedness.
         A gentle breeze against my skin.
           If only Love could find me
         the way the sea wants to take me in.
           Salty water rushes to shore, 
         knocking my skinny body down
                to the soft sand below.

    Cool water rushes round my tender skin.
  One naked soul hidden only by the foam 
        of the waves under a dim moonlit night.

   A cool rush frees my soul as I run back to shore,
     refreshed by nature in the warm summer air.
          Standing naked among pebbles and sand.
                 If only Love could find me 
                 standing here at the shore.

            S.M. Jordan 2004


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