As I developed my characters from the War against Boris series, stories began to emerge. Here’s one of them.
THE CHOICE: MINNA
One of those summer days doused in grey…I ride my bike to the beach to collect shells. As I comb the surf-soaked sands, a man’s voice snaps me out of the zone.
‘Found anyone interesting?’
‘Nup, no bodies,’ I murmur.
‘That’s a shame, a nice looking lady like you.’’
I fix my sight on shards of shell and ignore him. Hate those pickup lines.
‘Oh, what’s your problem? I’m not going to bite.’
I glance at him—had to see what creep I’m dealing with. Pale, pock-marked face, thirties and just a little taller than me at 165cm. In a grubby white t-shirt and brown trousers. “Never trust a man who wears brown trousers,” my school friend Liesel always said.
‘Come on, dear, just a little conversation. Tell me, what do you want more than anything in the world.’
I shrug. ‘To leave me alone.’
‘Tell you what, you tell me and I’ll leave you alone. Deal?’
I push my bike faster trying to escape this man, but he follows me.
‘I promise, I’ll leave you alone—just tell me.’
Hopping on my bike I announce, ‘I don’t talk to strangers.’
‘I’m not going to hurt you. I bet, I bet you’re one of those girls who wants to get married, have a family. That’s what you want more than anything.’
‘If you say so, now leave me alone,’ I say and then speed from the creepy little man with his creepy questions.
‘Your desire will be arranged,’ he says as I splash my wheels through the water. He then shouts, ‘But, I might add, there will be a price.’
‘Sure, sour grapes,’ I mumble. Then pumping the pedals, I sail along the damp-packed sand where the waves meet the shore.
Then, near the ramp and having to cross sand too soft for bike wheels, I glance behind before alighting.
[The continuation of the Survivor Short Story “project” in the War On Boris the Bytrode series. This time, back in time, 1967, following the adventures of middle-aged mum, Letitia…In this episode (8.2) Wilhelm gives Mrs Berry Bogan something to chew on…]
Without waring the Blue Berry Bogan rose. She pointed at Letitia and words exploded from her lipstick laden mouth. ‘Illegal aliens! They are taking over our jobs, our country. They are the ones having millions of children! They will take over our country if we are not careful.’
Wilhelm stood up, turned, and faced her. ‘Yes, but you must understand that they are escaping from terrible persecution. They are often desperate. They need somewhere to go.’
‘But our country is being filled to the brim with aliens! I mean, look at Sydney. It’s like, like spot the white person,’ Berry Bogan argued.
Her children shrank into their cream buns as if the light of morning had made them embarrassed at their mother’s outburst.
Mrs. Bogan stabbed the Age with her false bright purple fingernail. ‘It’s these foreigners, mark my words, man. They are causing the crime to rise.’ Her girl with cream smattered over her rose painted lips was cussing audibly at her plate. The freckled son began hyperactively bobbing up and down as if he was an organ-grinder’s monkey.
‘What are you laughing about, Mum?’ Wilhelm interrupted Letitia’s entertainment. ‘I hope it’s because you are finding Mrs. Berry’s bigoted views as amusing as I do.’
Mrs. Bogan Berry, stared at Wilhelm and then at Letitia. She paled. ‘Who are you people? She pointed at Letitia. Is she? Is she your mother?’
Wilhelm shrugged. ‘What is it, if she is, to you?’ He laughed. ‘Or, if in fact, I am hers? What is it to you?’
At that twist of a comment, the two little vipers stopped their cavorting and fixed their narrow eyes on Letitia.
‘No way!’ the boy exclaimed.
‘Told j’ya she’s too old,’ the girl said and turned to wolf down her bun.
‘Actually, aliens…’ Letitia began, then paused, ‘Aliens,’ she continued, ‘are just human beings – poor, persecuted human beings. They did not ask to be different. They just are. But after-all, in the end, the bottom line is…’ The Bogan family had now simultaneously paled to a seedy shade of green.
Letitia gathered her thoughts and resumed, ‘aliens are just human. Actually, they are nicer, more decent, more moral, more polite than the average Australian – is anything to go by.’ She smiled serenely beyond Wilhelm at the pale mum, daughter and son as they shuffled from the bistro leaving a pile of uneaten buns, coco pops, bacon and eggs, and instant coffee.
‘What a waste!’ Wilhelm glanced at the mountain of discarded food left in the Bogan’s wake.
‘Yep. I bet’chya aliens wouldn’t leave so much food to waste.’
Wilhelm twisted himself around and reached out a groping hand towards the deserted table. ‘Did they leave the paper? I forgot to pick one…’
‘Nup. They took that.’ Letitia was secretly hoping that they had read about her, that somewhere in that paper existed an article on the plane crash in Antarctica. She would be vindicated then. Leave them safe with the false knowledge that she was someone else. Although, she did not fancy being a science teacher, especially that girl’s science teacher.
As if reading her thoughts, Wilhelm remarked, ‘You know there will be no news about the crash, don’t you?’
‘How do you know?’ But before Wilhelm had time to answer, Letitia sighed, ‘Of course, Boris.’ Then as if the utterance of his name triggered enlightenment, she smacked her forehead, ‘Of course! Doris! Doris was their science teacher. Oh, she’d be one mean teacher!’
‘Shucks! I was hoping to read the news and do the crossword.’ Wilhelm lamented, totally unaware of Letitia’s a-ha moment.
Letitia smiled. ‘Hey, is that Melbourne?’
‘Na! It’s Geelong,’ Wilhelm pan-faced replied. ‘Don’t you know that it takes forever to reach Melbourne?’ He then rose abruptly from the table. ‘Darn! I’ll just have to go and get one for myself. I hope they haven’t run out. I hate it how they never have enough papers.’ With that he stomped off in the direction of the buffet.
Port Phillip Bay was murky green and choppy. The early morning sun glanced off the salt dusted window that spanned the bistro restaurant.
Sooner than expected, the Spirit of Tasmania was docking at the pier of Port Melbourne and Wilhelm and Letitia were packed and alighting. Letitia thanked Wilhelm for all he had done and all the help he had given her. When they had parted ways, Letitia sat on the beach by the shore. The sand had bags of shade as if it had just woken up from a long summer night of revelry. The waters of the bay were chopped and churned up, a muddy green blue, as if hung-over from the hard night before. She gathered her scattered plans for the day and resolved to seek out a telephone directory to look up Doris. Perhaps Doris lived in Melbourne. After all the Bogan family must come from Melbourne, surely, she reasoned. And if not, one more day’s delay in reaching Adelaide surely could do no harm.
[The continuation of the Survivor Short Story “project” in the War On Boris the Bytrode series. This time, back in time, 1967, following the adventures of middle-aged mum, Letitia…
In this episode (5.2) Fugitive Tails and his stolen charges await Tails’ partner in crime, Maggie’s promised return from Antarctica …]
Liam preferred to forget that day. The Adelaide plains surrounding the airport were blanketed with the chill of an unseasonal sea-fog, and icy rain drops which seemed imported directly from Antarctica. After the broiling heat of summer in Alice Springs; a heat that drives even the locals to seek refuge down south, Adelaide’s weather proved to be just too cold for Liam’s liking. The city skyline hunkered down beneath the mist as if trying to keep warm. Liam vaguely remembered this sister city of his youth, the one in Mirror World, where buildings rose tall and proud and way out of the flight path of sleek-looking aircraft. In contrast, these low-lying buildings and stumpy hills were shrouded in a murky mist, gathering, full of foreboding.
Liam, Max and their father, lined up at the glass; sad pathetic ducks at a sideshow. Waiting. Hoping. Expecting the aeroplane from Melbourne to land any minute. The giant-sized screen of scheduled landings flicked and clicked promised landings and departures.
‘The flight should have landed five minutes ago.’ Tails paced behind his sons. ‘You said she rang and that she was coming, Liam. You told me!’
‘It’s 1967, Dad,’ Liam spat, ‘That’s what you keep telling us.’
‘Yeah, Dad,’ Max rolled his eyes and added, ‘and it’s not Mirror World. So, the planes are old-fashioned and not as efficient.’
[The continuation of the Survivor Short Story “project” in the War On Boris the Bytrode series. This time, back in time, 1967, following the adventures of middle-aged mum, Letitia…
In this episode (4.1) Letitia enjoys wild Weber char-grilled salmon and must explain her inexplicable reappearance having been MiA for several years …]
The late evening light spread endlessly over the listless blue water. A warm breeze wafted periodically, ever so gently rustling the jasmine creeping up the balustrade. Salmon sizzled in the large black bowl stranded on three legs. After little Johnny with golden curls had peddled his energy out with red tricycle around the lawn area, Frieda, bathed him and put him to bed. Then she decorated the outdoor table, with left-over festive mats and coasters. Letitia now recognised the table as made of Huon pine. A spotlight beamed on their pending dinner and a lonely Tupperware bowl full of chips. Frieda then retreated to the open kitchen window that presided over the deck, where she tossed green salad that would eventually accompany the salmon and chips.
‘Help yourself to chips. They are warm. I was keeping them warm in the oven.’ Frieda offered from the open window. ‘Sorry about the fish we bought earlier. While you were in the shower, the dog got to the rest of them. Lucky, we had some salmon in the freezer. Will caught it on one of his boating exploits down the south-west coast, Macquarie Harbour. Wild salmon, it’s the best.’
‘Where’s the dog?’ Letitia asked.
Frieda rolled her eyes and snorted, ‘In the Dog House; locked up behind the shed; no chances taken. Don’t want him getting the salmon too.’
Letitia stared doubtfully at the pink plastic bowl laden with crisp wedges of fried fat and potato. She visualised Sister Salome, Gunter’s sister, egging her on. She may have been starving, but oil dipped fried chips spelt dangerous levels of cholesterol, thickening of the arteries and the waistline.
‘Come on, Lets! Have a few! You look like you need a bit of fattening up. Remember when we were kids. You would eat almost anything and everything and you never put on weight,’ Frieda urged.
‘At least you are honest. I remember my mother would just shove the bowl under my nose, strategically, and then be offended if I did not lick the bowl clean.’ The crisp golden slices of potato were enticing, and her empty stomach grumbled in yearning for them. Meanwhile Wilhelm, lean and fit, resisted temptation by casually reading The Canberra Times. He had a conference to attend in Australia’s national capital and was keen to be in the know about what was going on there.
‘Your mother! I remember her!’ Frieda snorted, ‘Why did I bother getting chips?’ She shovelled a few sticks of fried potato into her mouth. ‘Gawd! Am I going to be the only one who eats them?’ Her words muffled by the mouthful of mash.
Letitia selected a strip of carrot from the salad bowl that Frieda had brought out with her and chomped on it. The headlines on the front page of the newspaper, concerned her. “Late News Over Hanging” was plastered over the front page. The issue relating to capital punishment sent chills down her spine and she trembled.
Wilhelm peeked over the paper. ‘What’s the matter, Letitia? You’ve gone all pale.’
‘Huh? It’s that thing about capital punishment.’ Letitia shivered. ‘It’s like someone’s walked over my grave. I don’t know, I can’t explain.’
‘Hmm, there’s a push against it.’ Wilhelm flipped the paper closed and looked directly at her. ‘In my opinion, there are some people who deserve it.’
‘But what if they get the conviction wrong? And sentence an innocent person…?’
‘I think the salmon is ready.’ Frieda chirped. ‘I can smell that it is cooked.’
Wilhelm rose, laid down the paper on the table, and retreated to the Weber. With a moment’s reprieve, Letitia adjusted her position on the sassafras timber bench and leaned over to gain a view of the material that Wilhelm had been reading. However, Frieda barged in claiming the newspaper for herself. ‘Look at this! Pilots escape a plane crash! Landed on its fuselage.’
Letitia sank back into the dimness of twilight, knowing her minutes of being simply lost-now-found Letitia were numbered. Unsure of how the situation and her place in it, stood in this out-of-date world, she cleared her throat ready to recite her hastily constructed story for the ensuing discussion and IGSF debriefing while eating salmon.
‘That name sounds familiar,’ Frieda pointed at the paper.
Letitia’s heart sank with the acid of nervousness. She opened her mouth ready to defend her presence in this time which was her survival. However, Wilhelm, bearing the oven tray of Weber-grilled salmon, interjected. ‘That reminds me. Did we have a queer case today!’ He snatched the paper from Frieda and served the fish.
Without complaining or further comment for the moment, Frieda proceeded to serve the meal of fish and chips with salad. Wilhelm briskly and with finesse poured the white wine into crystal flutes. With Wilhelm’s pronouncement of “enjoy”, they silently dug into their late-evening meal.
Letitia savoured a mouthful of succulent salmon hoping in vain that her mysterious re-entry into this world at this particular time would slide into acceptance and then into obscurity. Unfortunately, that dream was not to be.
Wilhelm calmly and deliberately placed his fork and knife on his half-eaten plate of fish and continued sharing his day. ‘We had this illegal immigrant escape. Pity, the case sounded interesting. Apparently, they found her in Antarctica.’ He took a sip of chardonnay and chuckled to himself. ‘That matron, Sister Cross, you know, the one I’ve told you about, Frieda? Well, the immigrant apparently disappeared on her watch. Imagine that! Hawk-eye, herself! Tell you what, the boss wasn’t too pleased. If it wasn’t for the fact that the patient was meant to be in a coma, I guess Cross would have been suspended.’
Frieda sang some eerie “Doo-doo-do-do” tune and remarked, ‘Sounds like something from Deadly Earnest.’
Although vaguely unfamiliar with the supernatural implications, Letitia kept her head down and steadily shovelled in the salmon and salad and tried her best to remain inconspicuous. She was fortunate that her fingers were not frost-bitten and that apart from the initial lime green cleaner’s uniform, she had appeared sane and incontrovertibly Australian to Frieda.
‘Say, how has your day been, Letitia? What brings you to the clement climes of Tasmania?’ Wilhelm piped up attempting to make pleasant conversation.
As Letitia’s mind had become more unfrozen and nimbler, she knew that she had to factor in an aborted journey to Antarctica, as well as head off their suspicions as to her presence in this Apple Isle. She took a deep breath and made the tale fly by the seat of its breeches. ‘Well may you ask.’ She took a sip of Barossa wine and savoured its dry wooded vintage. ‘I had travelled to Tasmania to visit my relatives…’ She paused knowing that she had fudged the finer details of flight or sea, but sure that Jemima might be somewhere on the Island, ‘and – and was planning to fly over Antarctica – lifelong dream, and all of that.’
‘I didn’t know you had relatives here,’ Frieda interjected. ‘Last time I checked, your dad and mum were in Adelaide. The rest of them, cousins, I mean, are in Germany, aren’t they?’
Almost immediately Wilhelm flicked a hand in front of her wine glass, ‘Well what am I, dear?’ He royally waved a hand and with a knowing smirk, bid, ‘Continue.’
Letitia looked up and at Frieda’s husband. Him? Related? How? But said, ‘I meant, I mean, my mother’s family were Australian. Been in Australia for a hundred years.’ Then softly, ‘Don’t you remember how my father met my mother, Gertrude?’
‘Gertrude?’ Wilhelm laughed. ‘How many times have we heard that story?’
Letitia recalled the recent conversation with Jemima on the fated plane and decided to incorporate that piece of information. ‘Um, well, actually, yes, of course. But you see I was meeting my mum here in Tassie to go on the flight to Antarctica. It was her life-long ambition too.’ She paused, remembering that both Frieda and Wilhelm had expressed surprise at her reappearance after several years of being MiA (missing in action). She dismissed the calm demeanour they displayed when finding her as one of shock or not wanting to seem foolish for not keeping up with IGSF news. So, she added, ‘And a celebration, of course, for escaping Boris’ clutches on Mirror World and returning to Earth.’
The couple glanced at each other and then Letitia.
‘Fair enough,’ Wilhelm said. ‘But I don’t understand. There’s no tourist flights to Antarctica.’
Letitia lowered her voice. ‘Well, not officially, Mr. Thumm.’ She locked eyes with Frieda. ‘No parties at the LaGrange Point, either. Officially.’
Wilhelm crossed his legs. Frieda looked away.
‘You know nothing will stop my mother from doing what she wants to do, don’t we?’
‘No, I mean yes,’ Wilhelm muttered. ‘Strong-willed that woman.’
Frieda pursed her trembling lips. ‘So, typical! Treks all the way down to Tasmania. Hobart to boot. And doesn’t even give us the time of day.’
Letitia smiled. ‘That’s my mum.’
Wilhelm tapped pouting Frieda on her arm. ‘Say, I heard there was a plane crash in Antarctica. Unofficially.’
Frieda pounced on the newspaper and after a brief tug of war with Wilhelm, scrutinized it. Letitia braced herself. Frieda’s index finger paused, and her eyes raised up to her full of pity. ‘Oh, my God, I am so sorry!’
For a few furtive moments Wilhelm’s brow remained furrowed as he searched the paper. ‘Where is it? Where is it? I don’t see it. You’re joking.’ As he did this, Letitia steeled her muscles for the next instalment for her survival. She sensed an oddness about Wilhelm Thumm that made her uncomfortable and yet curious about him.
Once the mission to find this fake news had been accomplished, and not found, Wilhelm sternly and accusingly pointed a finger at her. ‘Well, Letitia, what are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be dead? From the plane crash?’
‘You see, that’s the interesting thing.’ She nodded. ‘I was in Coles Bay.’ She didn’t know why she chose Coles Bay. She recalled that there was a beach there. ‘I was in Coles Bay, on the beach having a swim.’ She checked Frieda’s and Wilhelm’s responses, so far so good, so continued her “slight” diversion from the truth. They didn’t look like the sort of people that could handle time travel or parallel universes at this stage. After all, she figured that Frieda may have imagined Mirror World to be a planet, like the Pilgrim Planet. Will perhaps, he had hinted at it. But not Frieda. Definitely, not Frieda. Then again, with her limited knowledge about physics, Letitia didn’t know if she understood inexplicable intricacies of time-travel. ‘Anyway, I had a nice cool, actually, the water was freezing cold, swim, and I came out of the surf to find everything – my bag, my towel, my clothes, money, tickets, everything gone.’
[So, begins the continuation of the Survivor Short Story “project” in the War On Boris the Bytrode series. This time, back in time, following the adventures of middle-aged mum, Letitia…]
Letitia did not dream. Had no visions. Only elusive threads of the past few weeks—missing time—that troubled her. It seemed every part of her psyche had excuses, plausible explanations for the conundrum that began to be her life in yet another world that was not hers. Or was it hers? Her world the one she remembered back when she left it in the 1960’s, and this world she was in, seemed the same. How could that be? Surely times, people, places, not to mention décor and colour schemes would have changed in the 50 years she had passed in Mirror World.
Two women dressed in simple lime green uniforms and wearing white pannikins on their heads, conversed in hushed monotones.
What is this? Letitia pondered, Variations on the flying nun?
‘Do you think she is an illegal alien?’
‘Who knows. She looks like one.’
‘Does she speak English?’
‘I don’t know. She hasn’t woken up yet.’
‘You better get the Department of Immigration onto it.’
‘Hmmm. We have to have a psychiatric report first. We don’t want to happen what happened last time.’
‘No!’ The other agreed. ‘Still these illegals can be pretty cunning. Antarctica! How the Dickens did she end up there?’
‘Where is that Doctor? He was supposed to be here half an hour ago!’
‘Oh, Thumm, he’s always late. Once they get as high up as him, they think they own time.’
Letitia lay on the bed, eyes tightly shut, pretending to be unconscious. Alert. Lucid. No longer coughing. Chest clear. She had an impression that the nanobots in her system had aided her speedy recovery. Who needs Vitamin C, or Flu vaccinations with nanobots? Carefully, she opened one eye to spy on the talkers. Their backs were facing her.
Stealthily, she reached for the medical report that was slung at the end of the cot, pulled it towards her and scanned the details. She trembled. My goodness it really is 1967! she thought. With hands shaking, she replaced the chart on the hook, and resumed her unconscious repose, hoping that her racing heartbeat would not alert the two nurses to her altered state of consciousness.
Then, without a second thought, she pulled out the plug to the monitoring system to be sure.
The two nursing ladies seemed less concerned with the void of monotonous humming from the machines, than they did about their tea break.
‘Tea break?’ asked the taller one.
‘Why not?’ the shorter dumpier one replied.
With recess on their schedule, the two disappeared out the door and left Letitia. Two thoughts troubled her. First, that she might in their world of 1967, be an illegal immigrant. Well, she hoped that was what they meant by the “alien” reference. Secondly, and more disturbingly, the idea, that she might be crazy. At all costs she must avoid that doctor. She must get out of this place.
Letitia assumed she was in the depths of the South, surrounded by Antarctic snow and ice. Still thought this even though the sun shone brightly and warmly through the window. Air-conditioning had taken the sting out of the heat, and she assumed that the cool climes of the medical facility were the direct result of the frozen world beyond; that the technicians had done a good job of warming up the joint. Hastily, she ripped the IV tube from her arm, abandoning the funnel to drip clear fluid onto the white tiled floor.
She tottered down the pastel green passageway—why did the décor fixate on green? —in her hospital gown; not a good look and would not get far endowed thus with the back of it open to the hospital corridor breeze. The little blue flowers on the bubbly cotton irked her. She wandered to the end of the hall where the elevator existed. Surprisingly, no one seemed to notice; no one seemed to care. All too busy. Never-the-less, she could not go around like this, with her posterior exposed to the elements. She had to find some clothes, and fast.
She ducked into a ward where an old lady slept. A dressing gown hung in an elongated cupboard. Begging: “Pick me!” With only the slightest measure of guilt and hesitation, Letitia took the bright pink velvet padded gown and wrapped it around herself. The extra layer flushed her with heat, but she tried to ignore the beads of perspiration dripping from her temple.
A nurse robotically strode into the room.
Letitia dashed into the nearby bathroom and hid behind the shower curtain. Drops of water from a recent shower caused her to slip. As she teetered, she grabbed the curtain. Satin green, of course. She clung to the curtain, fearful of stumbling over the commode. Water seeped between her toes, tempting her to release the curtain and land bottom first on the damp floor tiles (tiny green square ones, of course). She eased her body onto the commode, rubbed her feet and waited. The pastel green wall tiles and shiny dark green freeze didn’t escape her notice.
The nurse seemed to be taking forever. Papers rustled, blood pressure machine pumped, wheezed, and beeped while the nurse chatted with the old lady.
Letitia spent the waiting time constructively, planning her escape. She puzzled over how crowded the medical quarters had become and assumed that she was not the only survivor from the plane crash.
What happened to Fritz? She wondered.
Finally, silence on the other side. She slipped out of the en suite. The damp corners of the dressing gown slogging against her shins.
‘Who are you?’ the old lady stared at Letitia in an incriminating fashion. She wore this purple rinse in her thin curly hair and her piercing brown eyes marked her intruder’s every move like a hawk.
‘Oh, er, I’m your room-mate,’ Letitia said.
Baring her nicotine-stained buck teeth, she spat words of accusation at Letitia. ‘I have this room to myself. What are you doing here?’
‘Oh, haven’t you heard? There was an air disaster. The plane crash. They’ve had to double up.’
‘But there is no bed for you.’ She pointed a wiry finger at Letitia. ‘And why are you wearing my dressing gown?’
Letitia glanced lovingly down at the velvet chords and stroked the soft fabric. ‘Oh, is it? What a coincidence, I have one exactly like this!’
The old lady leant forward and indignantly replied, ‘How could you?’ Then in measured words, ‘That – gown – was – an – exclusive – from – Harrods – London.’
‘Really? Well, I guess salesmen, even Harrods ones, will do anything for a sale.’
The aged lady glowed bright red. ‘You mean…How could…what you…?’
The lady groped for the panic button.
‘I’ll go and see where the extra bed has got to,’ Letitia stammered before dashing from the room. She made for the nearest door that resembled a closet.
Letitia squatted in the cleaning cupboard surrounded by squeeze mops and buckets, and the stale musty smell that accompanied them. The fumes of antiseptic spray and wipe mingled with chlorine overwhelmed her. A lime green uniform was slung on a hook on the back of the door. Again, without too much thought, she donned the tunic-cut dress and dark green pinafore and slipped some available white sneakers onto her feet. ‘Don’t think too much about who wore those shoes before,’ she muttered with a shudder. The sneakers were a little tight and had a damp, cold feel on her bare feet. A surgical mask hung by its elastic on the hook that also held a green gown (pastel green, naturally). She took the mask and placed it over her nose and mouth. The fumes had been making her eyes water and she had begun to feel dizzy. The mask gave slight relief from the vapours as well as acting as a disguise.
‘Pity I’m no longer invisible,’ she muttered as she pulled open the door.
Fully dressed as cleaner with trolley laden with mops and buckets in tow, and vacuum cleaner barrel trailing behind her, she left the storage room. Eyes down, Letitia hoovered the short piled grey carpet. The nurses ignored her as cleaner. Domestic staff were unimportant to them. They were stationed in life and employment above cleaners.
‘You missed a spot there.’ There’s always one pompous nurse who had to be the exception. She had to make it her business how clean the med lab was to be.
‘Sorry!’ Letitia bleated while rubbing that corner of the corridor with the vacuum nozzle for some extra few seconds to satisfy her.
‘And don’t forget to empty the bins in the toilets – you forgot yesterday, and they are overflowing,’ she said.
‘Yes, ma’am!’ Letitia replied not actually looking at her. But silently she mimicked that particular nurse behind her surgical mask, then continued to vacuum away from the nasty nurse.
A few meters down the passageway, she glanced back. The nurse had turned away from her and had busied herself with a pile of clipboards, thank goodness.
Letitia worked her way to the large green and white “exit” and “lifts” sign at the end of the hallway. So far, so good.
Standing before the metal doors of the lift, Letitia expected them to open on command. She had forgotten that these lifts reinforced with an ornate brass gate, were not the sensor-lifts of the advanced Mirror technology. Mirror lifts are intelligent. They automatically sense the presence of an individual and whether the person is intending to go up or down. ‘Of course, this is 1967, on this world; lifts are not intelligent. I s’pose I have to press the appropriate button,’ she muttered while gazing at the lift. ‘Now, where’s the button?’
A man endowed with a yellow and blue striped polo shirt, baggy grey shorts and wielding a golf club waltzed up to the lifts and poked the “down” button. The fellow, tall, blonde hair receding, and dark blue eyes, appeared familiar, as if she had seen him somewhere before and long ago. The doors opened and Letitia joined the golfer in the lift.
A petite lady in a pale green mini dress smiled at them, and announced, ‘Going down? Going down?’
‘Er-oui,’ Letitia replied behind her mask. ‘I mean, “yes”.’
The golfer glanced at her and raised a blonde eyebrow.
‘Oops, habit,’ Letitia muttered and turned from him. Hoping she hadn’t given her “illegal alien” status away.
[The final episode in an extract from another of my little projects in the War Against Boris the Bytrode Series…]
She pulled the old jacket around her arms and grimaced as she drew in the damp mouldy aroma that accompanied it. At least it was warmer. A large lopsided figure lumbered through, parting the sea of the dozen or so bowling competitors. Black balls skittered in all directions onto the concrete floor and the white ball snuck irretrievable under the bar fridge. Imagine, a fridge in the coldest continent on Earth! In chorus the crowd cried in protest, ‘Oh, Fritz!’
‘Oh, sorry, sorry!’ the hairy awkward form mumbled as he thrashed his way through the maddening mob. As some of the group sank to their hands and knees in search of kitty and bowling balls, the klutz continued to apologise oblivious to the search.
Maybe I can pretend to be part of the crew, Letitia thought as she slithered to a table in the corner. She perched on the edge of the seat and observed this peculiar group of people undetected.
‘I’ll sus them out, and when I have worked out what’s going on, I’ll make the right impression before hitting them with the fusion bomb of bad news,’ she whispered.
The clumsy man had his back to her and was standing on the green carpet. The group of bowlers were furious, ‘Get off, Fritz! We are playing, Fritz! Get off, will ya? You’re in the way!’
As if only half aware of his surroundings, the man of all feet and no grace, turned and stumbled towards the table. Behind his crooked glasses, his eyes grew wide.
Letitia gasped. I know him. He’s the Chief Physicist from the IGSF (intergalactic Space Fleet).
Fritz his face pale as if he’d seen a ghost, pointed at her.
‘Fritz!’ she stammered. ‘I mean, Professor Grossman.’
‘Letitia? W-what are you d-doing here?’ Fritz collided into a nearby metal chair causing it to clatter onto the floor.
She shrugged. ‘Er—I don’t know—just sorta thought I’d drop in.’
‘After all these years…’
‘Yes, um, Boris ya know.’
Fritz adjusted his spectacles and then rubbed his eye. ‘We never gave up. Nathan never gave up. He’s been looking for you. He sent me here, to look. He kept me working—worm holes, parallel universes, you name it, he kept on searching for you. Everyone thought he was crazy.’
‘Nathan?’ she asked, the words choking in her throat. The 1960’s—he’d been so right for her—they’d been so right for each other—except at that time, the world-view their relationship as so wrong. The 1960’s, on Earth, in Australia, when tall, dark Nathan had been classed as “fauna”. No rights to vote. No rights to own a house. Yet, in the ISGF, Nathan and Letitia as an item, had been accepted.
Letitia wiped a tear from her eye. ‘After Boris attacked our ship, I thought I’d lost him forever.’
‘He never gave up,’ Fritz said.
‘How did he know? I was involved in a plane crash—Boris—he said he was sending me to another world. I think I’ve just arrived.’
‘Oh, there was a plane crash about a week ago—somewhere—over there.’ He waved his hands about. ‘Some other station…far away from here…’ His voice trailed off into uncertainty.
‘When did you arrive, Professor?’
‘About a week ago.’
‘He never gave up, Nathan…’ Letitia frowned. ‘But, why would Boris do that? Why would he be so kind?’
She bit her lip and avoided the obvious conclusion that someday, some time, Boris would demand her to return the favour.
The calendar of 1967 with the not-so faded photo of the Central Australian rock troubled her too. ‘What’s with the calendar? Has no one pride in the place to change it? Update it in—I know it’s Uluru—memories of a warmer clime.’
Fritz glanced at the glossy time device. ‘Oh, that. Tacky, yeah, I know.’ He saluted the calendar half-heartedly. ‘At least they have the year right. Pff!’ He looked again. ‘Oh, yeah, and the month’s right too. It’s January, isn’t it? We’ve just had New Year’s a couple of days ago. Some of the crew are still recovering if you know what I mean.’
Letitia shook her head. ‘Hmm, Boris, he did send me to another world.’
‘Yeah, well, it’ll be alright,’ Fritz said.
He stood and offered his hand.
‘Will I see Nathan?’ she asked taking his hand.
‘Hopefully—soon. Listen, you need rest. I’ll organise the transport.’
Fritz pulled Letitia to standing and then guided her out the common room and to the dormitory.
As she snuggled into a thermo-sleeping bag, she drew the hood over her head and asked, ‘Do you think you can keep the others from noticing I’m here?’
‘What do you mean? I thought that’s what you were doing—I mean using your invisibility skills.’
‘As I said, Nathan detected your presence.’ Fritz fiddled with his spectacles. ‘These glasses use sonar to detect things that are cloaked. Like you. It may just be this world.’
Fritz patted the hood of her sleeping bag. ‘Get some sleep. We transport back to Earth in the morning. Nathan is looking forward to seeing you.
‘Fritz? One more thing.’
‘I have a daughter—Jemima. She’s Nathan’s…’
‘Huh? Jemima? You have a…?’
‘Oh, Her! Yes, she’s been helping us.’
Letitia nodded and closed her eyes. Her head spun. Nathan…Jemima helping…And the thought that crept up behind her and caught her off-guard. What arrangement had Jemima made with Boris?
Fritz returned with chicken noodle soup in a flask. He set it on the small tin cupboard beside her bunk.
Letitia sat up and sipped the soup. She tried not to think about the deal Jemima made to save her mother from certain death on Mirror World. And maybe, the driving force behind the gesture—the need for a daughter to find her father.
Snug in her cocoon, stomach filled with soup, her heart content with anticipation to see her first love again, Letitia thanked God, and then drifted off to sleep.
King of the Springs
In an exclusive club on the edge of this desert town, Tails positioned himself on the stool at the bar and prepared to down an ice-cold beer. Nothing like a chilled beer in the middle of a hot summer in the Centre of Australia. He raised the schooner of amber liquid and savoured the moment…
A commanding figure strode into the bar. Walking in his direction…
Tails’ eyes narrowed. He spat out an expletive. Then muttered, ‘They’re after me!’
Appetite for his beer lost, he abandoned the full and frothing glass. Alighted from his barstool. Scuttled from the bar, through the Pokies Parlour. Into the melting heat of midday.
Packing up the boys and escaping south, to Adelaide foremost on his mind.
[An extract from another of my little projects in the War Against Boris the Bytrode Series…]
Late afternoon, the setting sun’s dying rays filtered golden through the curtains. The reflected dust motes danced and twirled, more awake than Phillipe who dozed amongst the sheets and crumpled doona on his bed.
His Dad had broken the news to Max the night before. Strange how Dad made the whole disaster appear as though it was Mum’s fault. Liam could never understand that. Dad was always blaming mum. It was as if, no matter what the circumstances, no matter how much of a pure victim, Mum was, somehow Dad construed the whole situation to be Mum’s fault; as if Mum was willing it to happen. So, as far as Dad was concerned, the tragic disappearance of the plane over Antarctica, was solely Mum’s fault. After all, hadn’t she insisted on assisting Boris in his endeavours?
Dad was furious that Mum would desert this life and leave him with two teenage sons—Max (fifteen) and Liam (thirteen). How dare she! And what was worse, Mum was not around to shout at and take the punishment of the pain that she was now putting Dad through.
‘Get yourself outa bed, you lazy princess!’ Dad roared and then hammered on the door.
Max yawned and stretched. ‘In a minute.’ Then he turned over. He wasn’t ready to rise from his slumber. I mean, the sun hasn’t even set. How dare Dad disturb his twelve hours in Neverland?
The door crashed against his mountain of soft-drink bottles, a shrine to the hours of playing Craft of Warts. Boots stomped on the chip packets. A hand clasped his hair and dragged him to the floor. Max landed with a thud and crunch on last night’s pie crust and left-over sauce.
‘I said, “Get up Princess!”’ Dad yelled.
Max sat up and wiped the sticky sauce off his ear, and attempted to ease himself back into bed.
‘Oh, no you don’t,’ Dad said. He grabbed the lad by the elbow, dragged him into the family room and then dumped him sprawling on the carpet. ‘Oh, and clean up your room, it’s a pig sty.’
Max pulled himself up off the carpet and hobbled out of the room. The family room had already taken on the atmosphere of a morgue where his brother Liam sat at the pine modular table. His younger brother struggled to grind semi-dry Weetbix in his mouth. Since Mum’s assumed chilly demise, Dad had put the boys on milk rations. Actually, everything had been rationed in the last week, not that Max was particularly hungry.
Dad was psychotic. He hurled stuff out of cupboards. ‘Where did she hide the keys?’ He rambled as a mantra as he emptied one cupboard after another in his fervent search. ‘I swear she’s put them in a parallel universe.’
Max picked up his mobile phone from the middle of the dining room table and began to tip-toe from the room. Dad was too mental to notice him leave, he hoped. He spied the keys in the centre of the table and realized that the phone had hidden the keys beneath it. He stopped. He sighed and muttered, ‘Do I? Or don’t I?’
Max snatched up the keys and held them up and cried, ‘Here they are!’
Liam kept his head bent, eyes focussed on the dry flakes, and continued munching.
Max’s calls for attention fell on deaf ears. Dad had gone past all realms of reason. Still Max persisted in following after his blind, deaf and psychotic father. He dangled the wanted keys between his fingers. ‘Here they are! Here they are!’ He called as he trailed his Dad from kitchen to the lounge room.
‘Stop harassing me! Go clean your room Princess!’ Dad yelled. He pushed Max towards his room and totally ignored the keys in his son’s hand.
‘Fine then,’ Max mumbled.
He slipped into his room, secreted the keys into his school bag and crawled back into bed. And continued his dream of a faraway land where the sky was mauve and where his name wasn’t Max, but Phillipe, and Liam wasn’t Liam, but Karl.
Out of the Ice-Cave
In a haze of bewilderment, Letitia blinked. Fractured rays of sunlight winked at her through shards of ice. About two metres above her a pale turquoise tinted sky strained through the ice, smooth and clear like glass. Little suns bounced off the icy barnacles and pillows of snow above her.
All was too calm, too silent in her frozen grave. The absolute silence troubled Letitia more than the concept of being buried metres in what appeared to be a snow cave. In this eerie world devoid of noise, she heard her rapid breathing.
‘I can breathe,’ she mumbled, her lips stung, the cold dry skin splitting into cracks. The sharp air cut her lungs. But her exterior didn’t register the cold. Should she be worried? She checked her fingers in the dim light. Were they blue? How long had she been lying there? Did she have frostbite? Would she get it? Or would the nano-bots ensure some protection?
Her body, stripped of clothing, was numb. Her designer Mirror (French, of course) slacks burnt and shredded. What remained of her silk shirt hung limply over her breasts. Her ankle high leather boots dangled at the end of her feet, the rubber soles having melted into distorted blobs. There was a sticky mess woven into her socks; her socks that held her frozen feet. Her feet were clumps of cold meat that seemed not even to belong to her. The ice scrunched and crunched beneath her as she shifted position.
‘How did I get here?’ Letitia asked. ‘Oh, that’s right—Boris. How dare that creep spoil my life again!’
She rubbed her hands together. ‘Right, well, not this time. You’re not going to do it to me again, evil one. God is on my side. He’s saved me again. I’m alive, aren’t I?’
Letitia looked up. ‘Jemima? What happened to you? God, help me get out of here. Help me find Jemima. Help me do what I can to destroy Boris.’
She wriggled her glowing white fingers. A surge of warmth ran through the veins in her arms to the tips of her fingers. The warmth, it seemed supernatural. She rubbed her shredded boots together and wiggled her toes. Blood rushed to her feet. Agonising pins and needles ensued for several minutes.
Heat, as if from an unseen being, poured over her head and cascaded down her body. She remembered the sensation. She’d experienced it before when she’d attended a healing service and the people had prayed for her.
‘The heat of the Spirit,’ they said. A good thing.
The ice beneath her melted. The snow caved-in around her and Letitia sank. She spread out her arms and stilled her limbs. ‘God,’ she cried, ‘what are you doing? Save me.’
A small voice inside her head spoke, ‘Patience. I have it under control.’
The floor under her feet became firm. She turned and examined the surface below. Her feet scuffed at deep brown gravel-like ground through the glassy plate of ice. She was on land.
She scraped the snow and ice above her in the snow tomb. The whole situation had an unreal edge to it. She swayed and slumped against the side of the cave. Bits of snow and icicles gave way as the heat of her body radiated and melted the frozen parts. The sun and its dozens of reflections shone through an ever-widening hole. The opening, just out of reach. Letitia clawed at the frosty sides and marvelled at the snowballs accumulating in her fist. She dumped the unwanted snow at her feet and stood gazing at the gap.
‘How am I ever going to get out?’ she groaned.
She continued to scrape at the frigid walls of the cave, each time hurling the unwanted snow at the floor. A hollow where she had dug began to expand and the soft fluffy snow began to give way to smooth walls as hard as glass. She stepped on the frosty mound beside her feet to reach fresh wads of snow, only to find her feet vanishing into the mush. She continued to shovel, dig, climb, and sink.
‘I’m not getting anywhere,’ she sighed. ‘I’m just making a wider ice-cave; that’s all.’
Letitia smoothed the frozen walls with her warm bare hands. The activity, she assumed, was keeping her blood circulating preventing her from the inevitable death by deep freeze.
She stopped again and wrung her aching hands. ‘Useless! Absolutely useless. I’m not getting anywhere.’ She chastised herself for getting into this slushy mess in the first place. How did she cause this to happen? It began with a party. A date. Nathan. Tall, dark, handsome. Funny. Nathan. How could she resist? Nathan. He had invited her to the twenty-first birthday party of one of his IGSF colleagues. Frieda. In space. La Grange point.
Then. Boris. And years of “Purgatory” living with on that world. Mirror World. What had she done this time? How did Boris know she had wanted out, and that this was her out? How did he know what her daughter, Jemima was planning?
She recalled the on-line survey. Confidential. They promised. Gathering data. That’s what they said. Data, nothing else. So, she’d filled in the survey. After all, they promised a prize. A new washing machine. Never came. Perhaps her answers weren’t so anonymous. Maybe Boris had access to the information provided…Had she inadvertently allowed spies into her world?
[An extract from another of my emerging projects in the War Against Boris the Bytrode Series…]
Letitia breathed in the rich aroma red wine. She weened her absorption off and out of the Dickens’ tale and adjusted to her reality. Letitia was on a scenic flight from Auckland heading south, her Mirror Adelaide home and IGSF mission on hold.
Her daughter Jemima thrust a full glass of red under her nose. ‘Try this, Mother! 1984 Grange from the Barossa Valley.’
‘Mmm.’ Letitia leaned back. Jemima, twenty-six, daughter from a long-ago relationship—Nathan. Complicated, war-torn…another universe, actually. And now this present world, this Mirror World was making her vanish…Literally.
Letitia sighed and thought, I wish I could get away for good. To another time another place—Home to Earth before it’s too late. She hung on in Mirror World, though, to thwart the attempts of Boris from enslaving, by stealth, this beautiful world and its population. But for how long? Twenty-six Mirror years had taken its toll. The IGSF (Intergalactic Space Force) medical technology of regular infusions of nano-bots had kept her alive, but now, were failing. Dr. Mario had shaken his dark Latin head after the last infusion and said the words she had dreaded to hear, “There’s nothing more we can do.”
‘To Antarctica we go!’ Jemima charged her glass and took a slurp. ‘Mmm! Excellent stuff! You should try some! Celebrate, this trip is your way out. You know what I mean.’
Her daughter examined her glass of red as though she were a connoisseur.
‘I still can’t believe we are here,’ Letitia said. ‘And drinking such old wine! Must be at least thirty years old.’
Jemima nudged her. ‘You won the prize, Mum! And you invited me to go with you—you knew how much I wanted to complete my quest to visit every continent on Earth. I concede, Mirror, in this case. But, still, a continent. It’s a win-win, ‘cos I’m here to help you. You’ll see.’
‘Why else would I take all that trouble to return from our universe?’
Letitia gazed around the passenger cabin. ‘Although, I have one complaint. I thought we’d be put in first-class. I won the prize, what happened to the open lounge plan with plenty of walking space and seats that reclined all the way? It’s nothing like the brochure.’
But here they were, sitting in seats that were blue instead of cream, (as portrayed in the brochure) and the passengers appeared to be more crammed in and arranged in neat narrow (than in that brochure).
‘We won the wine,’ Jemima said as she poured herself another glass.
‘Oh, yes!’ Letitia nodded. ‘Great!’
‘Fancy that, it’s survived all those years…Drink, it’s part of the plan.’
Letitia recollected the on-line competition and how Jemima urged her to explain in twenty-five words or less why she would want to go to Antarctica. She remembered Jemima rubbing her hands together and murmuring that she had a cunning plan.
It was after Jemima’s friend Holly and the rest of the IGSF team escaped through the red spot in Jupiter back to Earth. But before the bad news from Dr. Mario. Bad timing. Now that red spot had sailed and it would be another two years…If only the Doctor had told her earlier, she would’ve gone too.
‘1984! Must have been a good year.’ Jemima remarked as she finished her glass. The screen at the front of the section, played a loop of scenes from the icy continent. Icebergs, penguins, and rough seas battering the orange icebreaker. Letitia couldn’t get the earphones working, so it remained a silent show.
‘Well matured, I guess.’
‘It’s our escape;’ Jemima began, ‘I’ve been checking Earth’s history and in 2014…’
The movie froze.
A piercing scream.
A large man lurched from his seat.
Murmurs rippled through the rows.
Jemima and Letitia craned their necks to catch the action.
Letitia stepped into the aisle to witness a scuffle involving a female air-attendant and a burly passenger. They wrestled a small man.
‘What’s going on?’ Jemima asked.
‘It’s a man,’ Letitia said.
‘He’s ugly—not human—he’s wearing a brown jumper.’
A hairy ball torpedoed down the aisle, bounced on the toilet wall and rolled to a stop. At the other end, a body lay jerking.
Jemima stood and peered at the flailing form. ‘Where’s the head?’
Letitia pointed behind her. ‘There.’
‘I think I’m going to be sick,’ Jemima rasped. She reached for the complimentary paper bag. ‘Where’s the bag? The bag?’
A lady with shimmering auburn hair, thrust a paper bag at Jemima. ‘Here, use mine.’
‘Thank you,’ Jemima breathed before burying her face in its opening.
‘Don’t worry. It’s not real. It has to be a dream,’ Letitia said. The whole episode—the plane, the trip to Antarctica, the action down the front—seemed surreal.
‘This is real Mum. We’ve been hijacked by terrorists.’
‘Shut up! Shut up, you up there!’ a man’s shrill voice could be heard at the front of the cabin.
‘No,’ Jemima gasped, ‘Worse than that, it’s…’
A chill coursed through Letitia’s spine as she spied this man in the tawny jumper lording over his victim’s body. The burly man’s body. The strong man so weak, twitching lifelessly in blood. Blood pooling on the blue aisle carpet.
Feeling queasy Letitia’s legs wobbled as she stood in the aisle.
Jemima retched and trembled in terror.
The man marched up the aisle to Letitia.
He waved a vial of clear liquid between his spindly fingers. He seemed to be moving in slow motion, closer and closer. His black beads of eyes glinted reflecting the fluoro lights. He wasn’t that tall. He didn’t look that strong.
‘I thought, you said he was destroyed near Jupiter, Jemima.’
Letitia remained standing. She remembered the story of the devil at the end of Martin Luther’s bed. Like Luther, she had God on her side. No way was she going to allow this little man terrorizing the crew and passengers spoil her adventure. Was that a claw on his hand? No, people don’t have claws. Boris does, though. How did he do that to the big strong man? What happened to the security measures back at the airport? Didn’t they check him for weapons?
‘I will not be afraid,’ Letitia said and locked eyes with this man. ‘God is with me. I will survive.’ Convinced—she’d survived the last disaster—many years ago—an alien attack on her ship, cruising around Earth, in space. That was a Boris attack. Boris—she had heard of that enemy of man, engaged in the war against him, but never had she met the cockroach. They said it was a miracle she survived. Burns to sixty percent of her body. Skin grafts saved her. Presently, in this life, on Mirror World, when she wasn’t fading, she looked like everyone else.
‘What’ch’ya looking at?’ He scowled, baring his small, pointy teeth. ‘Have I got a little—no—big, nasty surprise for you!’
He shook the vial. The liquid fizzed.
‘Oh, sh-t!’ Jemima whispered.
A little girl nearby whimpered. ‘Mummy. I don’t want to die, Mummy.’
The man thumped a headrest. ‘Shut up!’
Two air-attendants hung back, glancing left and right. They hunted for solutions. But the threat of violent chemical reactions in the vial, and the potential loss of another head, prevented them from launching an attack on the man.
This man drew close to Letitia. He blew his foul breath into her face and shook the liquid tube.
‘Say goodbye to Antarctica, Grandma! The seas will rise, the coastlines will be flooded, the planet will suddenly heat up, and a few other nasty things…’ He laughed manically. ‘And this planet will be ours!’
‘I’m afraid you are too late—global warming has already done—’ Jemima piped up.
‘Shut up! Girl!’ the man snapped. Then he climbed in the seat next to Jemima and shaved his claw under Jemima’s chin. ‘Do you taste like your mother? Or father?’
‘What d-d-do you hope to achieve with that puny little bottle?’ Jemima stuttered unfazed by this man in the brown jumper who had a claw jutting out from his finger.
He brushed the bottle across Jemima’s cheek. ‘I won’t bore your puny mind with the scientific details…but,’ he gazed at the glass tube with devilish fascination, ‘But—when this liquid chemical compound escapes and mixes with the heat and airline fuel, there will be a big bang and a most delicious chain-reaction. Think of it as a kind of revenge on what you humans did to my kind, once, many, many years ago.’
‘Who are you?’ Letitia asked, although she had a pretty good idea who this particular monster was.
He rose and leaned against Letitia, his pug nose and flaring nostrils within inches from her face. Letitia averted her face from his onion and garlic breath tainted with cockroach stench.
He spoke slowly, and with menace. ‘I think you know who I am, my dear.’
‘I don’t, really, I don’t.’
‘Really? I don’t have time for this,’ the man said. He thumped the vial on the arm of the chair.
Letitia heard a crack, and a sizzle. The cabin filled with smoke. Then a flash of light and a rumble of thunder. Letitia grew light-headed. In the background as if in the distance she heard Jemima say, ‘It’s Boris, Mum…the Bytrode, you know, the giant alien cockroach…so glad we had the wine…’
Then sinking…plummeting towards the Earth. The screams of panicked passengers and the howl of the wind as it rushed through the fast-descending airbus, blended into agonising seconds of horror.
The force thrust Letitia forward. The aircraft pitched and spun. The ceiling caved and banged against her head as the craft disintegrated. The shattered fuselage nose-dived. Through cracks in the hull, clouds skidded past. The icy wasteland rushed into view.
Boris defied the laws of physics, hovering above his prey. His wings whirred creating a gravitational force-field holding Letitia. He bared his jagged teeth in a sickly smile.
‘So, my dear, Letitia, you are getting what you want most,’ Boris said.
Letitia gasped. How can he talk when she can barely breathe? The cold air rushing the plane to its demise, snatched her words before they became thoughts. Surely, she didn’t ask for this. Never even contemplated it. Why would she want to die crashing to Earth?
Bodies jettisoned around the remains of the cabin. Some bounced off Boris’ shell. He was fully cockroach now.
‘Can’t you see?’ Boris said. ‘Earth.’
Great! Letitia thought and then curled up and waited for the impact.
She imagined that her entire life would flash before her eyes. It didn’t.
She glanced up.
The seats arranged in a semi-circle were white. They rotated as if in some crazy show ride. Jemima was gone. Sucked out, and hurtling towards the icy plains of Antarctica, Letitia assumed.
As if detached from her body, she watched Boris vanish. Then she waited for the final thud…
The thud came. Metal crunched and ground around her. An explosion burst jolting her back to the here, now and her body sliding through slush. Ice caved-in on top of her, blocking light out and trapping her in darkness.
The seven sat around the dining table in silence. The roast steamed in the centre. Candles either side guarded the meal. Thunder rumbled over the hills and mountains. Lightning flashed.
Boris nursed his ray-gun hand and then he placed it beside his knife; a reminder in case any member of the group chose not to cooperate, Joseph assumed.
‘Oh, I’m going to enjoy this,’ Boris purred. ‘Thank you, Herr and Frau Biar, for inviting me. I do apologise for not being at the service this morning. I had a little business to take care of.’ With an evil twinkle in his eye, he glanced at Amie. ‘How was the service?’
‘Boring,’ Friedrich said in a sing-song voice.
Frau and Herr Biar tightened their mouths. They frowned at Friedrich and shook their heads.
Wilma piped up. ‘Joseph and Amie are in love.’
‘I know,’ Boris looked at Herr Biar. ‘Well, aren’t you going to do the honours? Cut up the chicken. I’m sure you’re all dying for the roast.’
A black bug crawled out of the chook’s orifice. Everyone watched as it meandered across the tablecloth.
Boris drummed the table. ‘Come on! I’m hungry!’
Herr Biar sighed. He sharpened his knife and sliced off some chicken breast.
‘No! No! A proper cut! Cut the chicken open!’ Boris rose and stood over Herr Biar.
Herr Biar jabbed the knife in the centre and flayed the roast.
Cockroaches teamed from the cavity and over the plates, cutlery and vegetables.
Joseph flicked them as they sauntered over his plate. Amie shook them off her dress.
‘Come on! Cut the meat up Biar!’ Boris raised his voice. ‘We want to eat.’
Herr Biar served portions onto the plates. Boris helped. He scooped up the black stuffing and slopped a spoonful on every plate. The stuffing reeked of a rancid stench that filled the room.
‘Now, the vegetables,’ Boris said. ‘Frau serve the vegetables. We must have our vegetables.’
Frau Biar lifted with fork and knife, the roast potatoes garnished with cockroach entrails and plopped them on the plates. Then she added the steamed peas and carrots mixed with bugs.
Six stunned people studied their portions of festering food, not daring to touch it. Boris presided over the group. He grinned from ear to ear, imitating the Cheshire cat from “Alice in Wonderland”, as he poured lumpy gravy over the chicken on each plate.
‘Go on, eat up,’ he urged. ‘Oh, and by the way, Amie and Joseph, I have your families—just where I want them.’
Joseph tracked a couple of roaches tumbling in the gravy.