Unexpected Friends.

 

It seemed to be glowing in the dark and Alexander Ethan Murray pulled the blanket over his head and trembled. He knew the toy Uncle Myles had brought from his travels in New York was trouble from the moment he unwrapped it.

“It’s a GI Joe.” Uncle Myles had declared. “They’re all the rage in New York.”

“It’s a doll.” Alexander Ethan Murray had said.

“It’s a soldier doll for boys.” His mother said. Her voice had that unspoken ‘don’t be ungrateful’ edge to it and Alexander Ethan Murray looked up at his uncle.

“Thank you Uncle Myles.” He said picking up the doll and holding it far away from his body. He put it down on the table in his bedroom. It didn’t seem fair to foist it onto his toys safely tucked up in the toy box. Who knows what they will make of the grimacing soldier with his Khaki outfit and combat rifle.

Alexander Ethan Murray ran down the stairs forgetting about the doll and played with Uncle Myles and Dad all afternoon. They teased him by holding a ball high above their heads and making him jump for it. He scampered about in circles and Mother said he was getting overexcited and to settle down. He was climbing into bed before he remembered Uncle Myles’s present. Mother came into his bedroom.

“Sleep tight darling.” She said kissing him on the cheek and drawing the blanket up to his chin. He felt silly asking her to take GI Joe out of the room. He couldn’t always put his feelings into words so Mother switched off the light and closed the door before he said anything. The moonlight thrust its way into the room flooding the table and illuminating GI Joe. Alexander Ethan Murray stared in horror as the soldier’s eyes glowed like embers. He was sure the rustling he heard was the toy struggling to climb out of the box that held him prisoner. Alexander Ethan Murray flung the blanket over his head with a squeak.

“Alexander Ethan Murray, get up boy! Hiding under the blankets won’t help us.” An unfamiliar voice said with a drawl. “We have an important mission to do.” Alexander Ethan Murray peeped over the blanket. GI Joe leapt off the table and marched to his bed. “We have no time to waste. Come with me.” He strode over to the door, stopped and waited for Alexander Ethan Murray who then followed him down the stairs.

“Where are we going? What do we need to do?” He said.

“Questions, questions! A soldier must follow commands my boy.” GI Joe said but his voice was kindly now. “The mission is to save the wooden train engine that fell from your window onto the grass below.” Alexander Ethan Murray gasped.

“When? How? My train engine?”

“Too many questions.” GI Joe sighed and the boy swallowed the others welling up in his throat. They tiptoed past Uncle Myles snoring softly on the sofa, his feet hanging over the side. The blanket had slipped onto the floor and Alexander Ethan Murray resisted the temptation to drape it back over his sleeping uncle. He scuttled after GI Joe who was tapping his foot in impatience at the closed front door. Alexander Ethan Murray stood on tiptoe and unlatched the door. It swung open and GI Joe strode out to the side of the house. The train engine was lying crumpled and forlorn on the grass. The soldier knelt down and patted the engine gently.

“Are you in one piece or do we have to find the bits of you?” He said.

“I think I’m altogether, sir.” The engine said shakily.

Alexander Ethan Murray bent to pick up his engine and cradled it in his arms as they walked back inside. He had to place it on the floor to close and latch the door. When they were back in his bedroom he examined the engine carefully. There did not seem to be any lasting damage but just in case Alexander Ethan Murray put it under the blanket. He climbed into bed next to the engine and yawned.

“Mission well done boy. You will make a fine soldier one day.”

“Thank you GI Joe,” Said Alexander Ethan Murray “But I want to be a Doctor just like my Dad.” GI Joe shrugged and went to stand next to the toy box.

“To each his own.” He said. “I will stand guard while you sleep. Good night Alexander Ethan Murray.”

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Mortal Enemies.

I saw the leopard making his way over the blood splattered ground and I knew he had seen me too. I froze mesmerised by his gaze. The remains of his last meal, a hollowed out warthog, lay in repose under a Mopani tree on a shroud of leaves. The cat settled gracefully onto the ground and closed his eyes. He was panting, tongue pink, teeth glistening. Warthog blood tainting his chin, his chest merged with his chequered pelt.

I knelt down about five metres away to observe him. My cameras hung heavy around my neck and I removed one slowly. Keeping my movements fluid I brought the camera to my eye. I had waited many months for this. I focused on his face. The artificial click of the camera caused his eyes to open, intent once more. It was a perfect shot. I took a few more but tired of me, he closed his eyes again.

Suddenly he was up, mouth open, threatening and feral, tossing dust into the air. He seemed to look past me. A low growl reverberated and I turned, insubstantial and unprepared. A male Lion stood huge and terrifyingly close. His black mane trembled as he swung his head from side to side. He looked from me to the leopard. I was still crouched, helpless, one camera clutched in clammy hands, another around my neck. A fly buzzed, attracted by the sweat trickling from my brow. My mind was vacant and my body no longer solid but water, structure melted away. The cats stared at each other warily. I was forgotten in their enmity.

The leopard behind me screamed and lunged and his rival retreated briefly with a snarl. The lion charged, the ground rumbling under his weight and power. With a flick of his head the leopard feinted sideways. Instinctive as a primate I leaped towards the Mopani tree seeking sanctuary among its lofty limbs. My camera clattered to the ground and the lion swung around jaws snapping but I was not his focus. By the time he turned for his enemy the leopard was already padding for the undergrowth and disappeared.

The lion shook his body vigorously, glanced up at me clinging to the tree and ambled over to the warthog. I still had a camera around my neck and tried to distract my trembling body by taking copious photographs. I resigned myself to a long wait in my now favourite tree. It was dusk before with a shake of his immense head he left his feast under the tree. I clambered down aching but alive with an extraordinary tale to tell.

All that glitters…

 

The cave was partly hidden but unmistakable from Cutter’s elaborate description. The steep slope, at least fifty meters down, was daunting but if what he said was true, well worth it. Cutter was a strange one; I still question his motives for telling me about the coins. But I have always been a sucker for an adventure. So here I was standing on this precipice looking for a way down that would not splatter my brains onto the rocks.

I approached it like the Climbing Wall in my gym. Without the harness any misstep would be fatal so I took my time testing my footing before putting my weight on the rock. It was arduous and exhausting work. The cliff-face was too jagged to abseil but I still took the precaution of tying a rope around the bull bar of my Hilux parked as close to the edge as possible.

I rested on a huge boulder jutting straight out about thirty meters from the bottom and peered over the edge. The ledge was a long drop into the foamy waves crashing against sharp rocks. I had no way of knowing whether the water was deep enough to dive and the rope fell depressingly short. I had chosen to do this during low tide but still there was only a thin line of white sand separating the cave from the churning ocean. I wouldn’t have much time before the cave flooded.

I grabbed the rope once more and heaved myself over the edge. I didn’t anticipate the serrated rock obscured by the ledge and it sliced into my shin. I gasped in pain sliding down the rope until I hung about three meters from the water. Drenched by the spray I leapt feet first. The water tossed me like a salad but I was able to navigate the rocks and flung myself towards the sliver of beach.

It was wider than I thought and I lay gasping for breath. I sat up mesmerised by the blood soaking into the sand. A flash of white told me the cut opened to the bone. I removed my t-shirt and tearing a strip off the bottom I tied it around the wound. I haven’t got time for this, I told myself sternly and stood. My shin hurt like hell and the makeshift bandage was crimson in seconds. I hobbled to the mouth of the cave.

It was dark and smelt of bat urine and rotting seaweed. I removed the headlamp from my waist pouch and put it on. The outer cave led to a smaller one, which I had to bend to enter.   An odd whooshing noise made me feel as though I had my ear to a conch shell. I turned my head, the light leached into the corners and shadows danced off the oily walls. I saw the small bag tucked into a ledge cut out of the rock. It was heavy in my hand. I pulled it open and the coins shimmered under the gaze of my headlamp. I tucked it into the pouch, which slumped heavily against my stomach and limped out of the cave.

Getting back up was going to be a challenge especially with my throbbing shin. Blood pooled in my shoe and my foot was sticky. I gazed up at the rope out of my reach and my stomach lurched. The tide was surging in and time was running out. The rocks were uneven and slippery and I heaved myself up, climbing on my hands and knees, ignoring my screaming shin. I steadied myself and leaned over to clasp the rope but it swung away from my fingers. The waves crashed against the rocks almost knocking me over. I bent again and finally grabbed the rope with one hand. Years of weight lifting and bench pressing had finally paid off as my muscles strained under my weight. I kicked myself away from the sheer wall of stone careful to watch out for jutting rocks and pulled myself up the rope. I was breathing heavily from the effort but made headway achingly slowly. I reached the ledge and climbed the rest of the way up. I staggered over the edge with a yell of triumph.

There grinning malevolently was Cutter, a pistol glittering in the afternoon sun pointed at my head…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Atonement.

My chest fills with the thin mountain air of Tibet and my orange robe sways gently in the afternoon breeze. I have been here for eight months already and my past is finally fading into insignificance. I was older coming into this meditative life, all of twenty years. Most of the monks come as children.

It is quiet in the gardens as most of the others are resting in their quarters having been up since four this morning for prayers. I cannot sleep preferring to study the Buddhist texts under a tree. I have so much to learn. I still receive the odd thwack between the shoulder blades for yawning during morning prayers.

My mind wanders and I close my eyes to regain the sense of peace I had moments before. It eludes me and I put the heavy book down on the cool grass and lean against the trunk of the tree. Bells tinkle in the breeze and the smell of apple blossom suffuses the air.

I remember the day I arrived at the ornate doors of the monastery. The deep rumble of monks chanting evening prayers seemed to swirl in the valley. I was exhausted, dehydrated and near death. I fell down at the foot of the door weakly hammering the heavy wood. The chanting was without pause but someone lifted me up. I remember drifting in and out of consciousness as a cool hand mopped my brow or coaxed warm soup between my lips. Later I heard that it was many days that my sickness lasted. They asked no questions and I gave no explanations.

It is as though no time has passed and I am plunged back into that time.

My parents were simple farmers in the mountains. I had loftier ideals and left for the city to seek adventure and wealth. I met a man called Hassid with stubble on his chin and a shifty eye but I noticed only the coins he held out so willingly. If I had known accepting his money would lead me down a path so dark and painful, I would have turned away to look no more on his face. But I did not. He took me to a man he called Hakima, whose mouth held much cruelty and his eyes knowledge of evil that up to that point I had no inkling.

“You are now mine.” He said handing me a wad of more money than I had ever seen. I ignored the uneasiness in my body.

It was not even a day before I was ordered to deliver and pick up packages all over town. I did not open them preferring not to know what they contained. It was through Hassid that I took my orders.

“You go to Hakima now.” He said one morning and his mouth was sulky.

“I don’t want to.” I said, afraid.

“You go now or you go nowhere ever again.” He said ominously.

Hakima was like a tiger circling me. I held my breath as he prodded my chest with his finger.

“I am happy with your work but it is now time to prove your loyalty to me. You will go with Sadat and follow his instructions.” He held out a handgun. I shied away but he took a step towards me. I took the pistol from his hand although I trembled.

Sadat was a big man with a shaved head and I followed him without speaking. He walked fast and purposefully up and down deserted alleyways. I followed tripping to keep up with him. He stopped and took out a pistol tucked into his belt. The gun Hakima had given me was still clasped in my hand.

A fat man with sparse strands of hair plastered wetly over his scalp was standing smoking a cigar and talking to three men listening with furrowed brows.

“This comes compliments from Hakima!” Shouted Sadat and his gun exploded and the man fell to the ground. I dropped the gun and ran. I ran for days without food, drinking from stagnant puddles and finally dropped at the doors of the Monastery.

The bells ring out the start of evening prayers bringing me back to this place. I pick up the manuscript and walk back inside. The Monastery is my sanctuary. I have been called to this life of quiet contemplation and I will live out my days here.

Nolavia’s Shadow Chapter Sixteen

 

 As we strolled back home a shower of stars swept across the darkness. A blood red moon rose from the horizon and hovered over Nolavia like a fiery sentinel. Davalast gripped my hand tighter and we ran into the town square. Everyone was outdoors staring in wonder at the sky.

“This isn’t good” Muttered Davalast as we joined the crowd.

“It’s great. Maybe Mundanim is tired of keeping us in the dark.” Said Assennav. He shook his head.

“You don’t understand. It is 11.30 in the morning. If he had revealed the sun I wouldn’t be so worried. How has he managed to switch them? Anaira said he was only obscuring them but now I’m not so sure.” I squeezed his hand reassuringly.

“Perhaps we are mistaken. It’s been so long…” Davalast interrupted.

“No I’ve kept a constant record. There is no mistake.” If what Davalast said was true then it was worrying. Could Mundanim really switch night and day? I looked around for Anaira but couldn’t see her anywhere. I felt a bit disorientated too. I could hardly believe it was only 11.30am when so much had happened in so little time. I needed to speak to Ruatnac and tell him of my conversation with my father but first I would feel a lot safe knowing Anaira’s whereabouts. Nobody seemed to know or care where she was. They were all mesmerised by the moon’s welcome presence and turned away from Davalast’s bad-omen speech too. The constant darkness had taken its toll and they wanted to believe it was over. I was longing to believe as well but I knew too much to allow myself that delusion.

I left the crowd and walked into my house startled when something flashed across my vision and disappeared. Was it the illusive Silky? I sniffed the air and smelt the distinctive sulphuric smell of a grosslin. I shivered with revulsion. Grosslins are disgusting creatures that lurk about in alleyways eating decaying matter. Having one in the house was sickening. I hated to admit it but I’ve been terrified of them ever since one got into my crib when I was a toddler. I was loath to attempt catching the thing.

“You’re back?” Anaira said coldly crossing the room towards me.

“Oh hello Anaira I was looking for you.” I said ignoring her tone. “Did you see that revolting grosslin? It scuttled under the sofa. Help me get it out of the house.” Anaira pointed her finger at the couch.

“Eradicate!” She said and the couch leapt aside and the grosslin inflated like a balloon and burst, splattering against the side of the retreating sofa. I looked up at Anaira in horror. The couch shook itself and bits of grosslin flew against the wall.

“Stop!” I yelled. “Clean up this minute.” A cloth and dustpan sailed out of the cupboard and wiped and cleaned until there were no more signs of carnage.

“You said get rid of it.” Anaira said with a smile. I shook my head and walked down to my laboratory.

“Where have you been?” She said complaint in her husky voice. I ignored her question.

“What do you make of this new turn of events?” I said lighting numerous candles with an irritated flick of my wrist.

“Mundanim raising the bar as usual.” She said. “You will struggle to bring him down.” Her dismissive attitude annoyed me. I’ve been bending over backwards to see things from her side but she did nothing to make it possible.

“I see you’ve dropped the ‘we’ already Anaira. Does this mean you are no longer our ally?” I was angry and wanted to lash out at her. I restrained myself but could not stop the violet sparks escaping from my eyes. They looked like fireflies briefly before fading. Anaira couldn’t help but notice.

“I’ve upset you? I am sorry I must have misunderstood. I thought you wanted the grosslin gone…?”

“It has nothing to do with the grosslin and you know it. Are you working with Mundanim?” We glared at each other for moments. The violet sparks circled my head again popping like soap bubbles. I hated losing control but Anaira was pushing all my buttons. She finally broke away from my gaze and flopped down on the sofa.

“You know I’d never do that? You don’t include me in anything. You go off with Davalast and I’m left here all alone most of the time. I keep hoping you will notice me but you never do. “ Her eyes shimmered in the candlelight. I sat down next to her and she turned to face me. “I need you to want me.” She said flinging her arms around my neck and burst into noisy sobs.

A series of sharp explosions came from outside and we ran up the stairs in time to see the moon explode with a bang that rattled the windows and shook the walls. Sparks flew across the sky once more before we were plunged into darkness. A theatrical laugh reminiscent of the wicked witch of the west rang out ricocheting off the buildings. Mundanim was definitely upping the ante and it seemed he was attempting a sense of humour, albeit it maniacal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nolavia’s Shadow Chapter Fifteen

 

 I opened my eyes and stared out of the window realising suddenly that it had been daylight all this time. I had been so distracted by the situation I hadn’t even noticed. I leapt up from the armchair and rushed to the window. The leaves swayed in the wind and the rays of light shining through the foliage created a prism of pinks and purples.

“It is light here. How can that be? We have had nothing but darkness on Nolavia for weeks. They said the Mainland was also blacked out.” I said.

“We are not on the same timeline Esereht. When you go back to Nolavia it will still be dark.”

“We are on a different timeline?” I said slowly as if that would make the words make sense. My father nodded. “So if I say I want to go to a specific date would I go there?” He nodded again. “Even if it hasn’t happened yet?”

“Darling it is all happening simultaneously. The past, the future, now, this moment, it is all happening at the same time. What you change now changes the past and the future. But beware making changes in the past for the ripple effects can lead to disastrous events. People disappear in the blink of an eye because someone wants to make a fortune on the stock exchange…“

“What? Really?” I said aghast. “That doesn’t bear thinking about.”

“No you right it doesn’t but it happens all the same.”

“ Dad, I’d better get back to Nolavia. Davalast will be worried about me.”

“It has only been a few minutes my dear.” My father smiled.

“No way we’ve been here for hours.” I protested. He shook his head. “Does being on a different timeline change the way time passes in another?”

“Yes. When you return to Nolavia and your timeline only a few minutes will have passed.” He said with a wry smile. “It will be useful for us when we wish to spend time together without eliciting any questions or suspicions. I do want to spend time with you Esereht. I have missed you more than you can ever know.”

“Oh Dad I have missed you too.” I ran to him and he enveloped me in his arms. We stayed entwined for a long time. His jacket smelt of cinnamon and tobacco. I looked up into his face. “Do you still smoke?” I said incredulously. He grinned.

“Unfortunately, yes.” I wasn’t going to tell him but I loved the smell. It reminded me of a time when we were a family and I was safe. Well, I had felt safe then even if it was only an illusion.

I teleported back to my dark laboratory just as Davalast walked in. The note was still on the table.

“What did he say?” Said Davalast, his face radiant from the beam of light from his forehead.

“Did you see the note?” Davalast looked confused. I handed it to him. He read it and looked up.

“So when are you going?” He asked.

“I’ve already been. You are not going to believe what happened. Let’s go for a walk down to the river. We need to create a frequency disturbance so nobody can intercept our conversation.” Davalast’s frown deepened but he said nothing. We left the house holding illuminated hands. The humming static around us was distracting at first but we soon became used to it.

The air smelled stale from the constant fires. Nolavians were used to at least two hundred sunny days a year. This constant gloom was making them depressed. The magical community suggested cosy fires to lift their spirits. I’m not sure it was working. The darkness seemed to prevent the Island’s natural breathing. Davalast said nothing as I told him of the meeting with my father.

“It all sounds like a Science Fiction movie.” He said. I grinned.

“That’s just what I said.”

“What are the implications of this grid that you are encoded with? If they killed your mother because of her knowledge won’t they target you?” Davalast stopped and turned to face me. I looked back at him saying nothing but he understood. His face crumpled and he pulled me against him.

I was calmer now. Telling this man whom I loved so much seemed to settle something in me. It is as though I accepted my destiny somehow. I didn’t have any new answers and I still didn’t understand the grid but I knew that I would soon. After all it existed inside of me. I wondered if the lionesses and The Voice that spoke to me in the garden were part of this new knowledge?

Anaira and her association with Mundanim was the most pressing concern. My stomach gave a strange little flip when I remembered I could talk to my father about it. It felt good to know that he was available and we would meet again soon. I now had two extraordinary men in my life. I grabbed Davalast around the waist and squeezed him hard.

“What’s that for?” He said laughing.

“Have I told you that I love you?” I said.

“Not nearly often enough.” He said leaning down to kiss me.

 

 

Nolavia’s Shadow Chapter Fourteen

 

The dishes had cleaned and packed themselves away and we both stared obsessively at the fire. My head ached from the overload of new information. My childhood memories were not real and were only perceptions. Nothing I remembered was true. Could it really be that my father had always loved me and his distant ways were to protect me? Had sinister faceless corporations killed my mother and was Anaira innocent?

“What was Anaira’s role in all of this?” I said.

“We allowed the world to believe she killed Siralie because she believed she had. It deflected attention from the real killers but it was safer. They had always been mortal enemies but Anaira was no match for your mother. She could have rebounded Anaira’s magic in her sleep. Siralie was attacked from many vantage points and by massive strikes. She had been caught unawares because Anaira appeared to be alone. A secret investigation showed us that they were hiding on the fifth dimension. Many of them! It was unbearably ironic you see, they used her own work against her. If she had not been distracted she would have picked it up, she was the most intuitive…” My father’s voice cracked and I gazed in disbelief at him. I had never seen him emotional. Ever.

“Did Anaira distract her? I keep going over what I remember but nothing makes sense.” I said.

“She was worried about you Esereht. She wanted to protect you.” His voice trembled and he gripped his hands together so hard he looked as though he were praying. Had I caused my mother’s death? If she weren’t so intent on protecting me would she have noticed the forces hiding in the shadows? I needed to push those thoughts away for now. It was too much to handle on top of everything else.

“What did you mean the fifth dimension? It’s cited in Mum’s notebooks too.” I said. I needed time to relate differently to my father and comforting him was still inconceivable. He cleared his throat and rubbed his eyes as though he were weary rather than sad.

“Our life’s work has been to prove that the world exists on multiple dimensions and anyone can access these at any time. Your mother discovered a grid that connects these dimensions. It is rather like the streets of New York. They cross or run parallel in a type of grid.” He said in answer to my frown. “But instead of taking you to another street it takes you into the past or the future or… and this is when it gets complicated, other worlds entirely where life is very different.” He said.

“It all sounds like a science fiction movie to be honest.” I said with a shrug.

“Yes, I know it does. The Organisation has been discrediting our work for many years and because it’s difficult to understand it is very easy to do. But they know it exists. They use it all the time for their own profit. They are determined to keep the rest of the world in ignorance. They have no compunction Esereht. They will kill to keep their secrets and have done so on numerous occasions.” He leant his head back against the chair and closed his eyes. I stared at his pale face trying to understand my conflicting emotions and thoughts.

“Ruatnac said I was the only one who could change things. What did he mean? I don’t even understand these grids. Surely you would be the person they need.” I said. He opened his eyes and they seemed to glow with the same intensity as the fire. I shivered with apprehension.

“No, Esereht it has to be you.” He said and his voice sounded so sad I felt tears prick the corner of my eyes. “You see this grid is imprinted in your DNA. It is as much a part of you as your body. Actually it is more so because on the sixth dimension your body is no longer important and is left behind when you enter it. You can take up it again if you so desire. They are engaging with more espionage on the sixth level now…”

“Stop! This is all too much. I don’t know what you are talking about? I’ve worked hard on this body and am quite partial to it. I have no intention of letting it go!” I shouted.

“I’m sorry darling.” He said.

“Why is it imprinted on my DNA? Is it only me?” I watched my father’s discomfort imploring him with my eyes to deny it. He shifted in his chair crossing and uncrossing his legs until finally he stood and walked over to the window.

“When you were born your mother attached her knowledge onto your chromosomes. It was her gift to you my darling. She was giving you her life’s work. You may not understand the work but it is innate in you. You don’t have to understand it to find your way into the grid. You will feel your way in. Your challenge will be to allow yourself to do so.” He said. I was quiet for a moment.

“But won’t they want to kill me to prevent that?” I said.

“Yes.” He said so softly I thought I imagined it.

“Did Mum know she was giving me a death sentence?” He shook his head vigorously walking back to face me.

“No, no she would never have done it if she knew. She intended only good…” His voice faded. It was my turn now to lean back against the chair and close my eyes.