Right Worldview — I like to think of the blogging community as a group; a world-wide group. Think of the local writers’ group you attend if you’re a writer. Then imagine that group spanning the globe comprising of every imaginable country and culture. That’s the breadth and beauty of blogging. But remember, each one of your potential followers are people, real people.
Right Mindset — Gathering those real people, followers takes time. Marketing likes to depersonalise the whole experience and calls those visits from readers “traffic”. They are not traffic, they are individuals who have searched for your particular topic of interest and taken the time to read it. When I first began blogging 6 years ago, one of my first international visitors was from the Bahamas. I imagined that person sitting on the beach sipping their mint julep, reading from their jewel-studded iPad, and dreaming of the Central Australian adventure I had written. Just one person but imagining that person made all the difference to me, that they had connected with my story.
Right Attitude — My first like (besides my faithful friends and mother) was a well-known Romanian blogger. He has written many posts on how to blog, so I feel, I don’t need to repeat his good advice in this article. The following is a link to Christian Mihai’s website, The Art of Blogging. My main takeaway from one article I read from there, was that if we don’t have the right attitude to blogging, if we are amateurish in our approach, we may spread our web of information wide, but we won’t touch many in a way that is meaningful or truly influential. And the reality about developing authentic relationships that change and grow us and others, is that they take time.
Right Timing — I think there’s enough on the internet about how to set up a blog and post, so, I won’t go into detail about that. Check out Wiki how for setting up a blog, or website. But what you need to do is be regular. Followers, once you get them, are creatures of habit and if you post once a week on a Tuesday, for instance, they will look for your post, once a week on a Tuesday. One of the frustrating things I found when I first entered the blogging community, was finding those bloggers who I liked. Some would seem to vanish into the vortex of the world wide web, never to be seen again. It took me a while to figure out that if I “followed” these bloggers, they would turn up in my “Reader Feed”. Other bloggers have mentioned that this is the reason they “like” posts. They then look at their “likes” to find their favourite bloggers again. Regular posting, I found, helped raise my profile in the plethora of websites and posts and make those blessed algorithms work for me. I knew that my blogs were rising like cream when I observed a reader emerging out of “Search Engine” in the stats of my post. When starting up my blog, though, I invited as many friends and family to follow my blog through email, and Facebook.
Right, Don’t Give Up — It’s three months into you’re blogging venture, and nothing; not a hump, nor a bump raising those statistics. ‘I don’t know,’ my mother said, ‘no one has visited my posts in ages. I think I’ll give up.’ And yeah, it seemed as though the WWW “gods” were doing everything in their power to squash my mother’s enthusiasm to continue. As they tried to do some years before with my blog. As they have done with a number of writer friends of mine who have set up blog sites or websites and then with a failure to thrive, they have silently let them slide into obscurity. Again, it takes time for your website or blog site to gain traction. Just be patient.
[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 (3.1) Letitia meets an old friend…]
The Point of Batteries
‘You must come to my place. You must!’the blonde said.
Letitia glanced around the almost empty street. The crowds had dwindled to nothing in the golden light of the late afternoon sun. Her suggestion was not a bad one under the circumstances.
‘You must come for tea.’ The lady grabbed Letitia’s arm and dragged her along the road lined by warehouses. ‘We’ll grab takeaway on the way home. There’s a lovely little fish’n chip shop just up the road near our place. Remember when we were kids and we used to ride our bikes up to The Rocks and get a three-pence bag of chips? They were the best chips, weren’t they?’ The blonde ferried her up some steep steps.
‘Hmm!’ Letitia tried to remain polite and in the know. Rocks? Riding bikes? Fish and chips? Three-pence? All familiar images that hinted at the nameless friend’s identity. Her fuzzing mind tried to stretch her still frozen memory to capture who this woman was. The harder she tried, the more futile her efforts at name retrieval became. ‘How embarrassing! I apparently knew this lady from childhood,’ she muttered.
The blonde gave a tiny snort of laughter. ‘Gunter loved those chips. Remember? He said they were the best chips in Australia.’ She paused and for a moment gazed over the cove which spread beneath the hilltop vantage point. ‘Poor Gunter!’ she remarked, ‘Boris got him, ya know.’
The sun had crept behind Mount Wellington casting muted shadows over the historic houses, the pebble-strewn beach and the calm waters in hues of purple and blue. ‘Hmm! Poor Gunter!’ Letitia parroted. She paused in thought. Gunter, my half-brother?
Bright, colourful sails of boats dotted the river. The vivid reds, yellows, and whites pitted against the deep blue of the waters almost succeeded in converting Letitia to cheerfulness. However, the reality that she may have left her old world permanently behind, lurked in the shadows of her subconscious and troubled her. Letitia tried to agree to sound as if she knew what the blonde was talking about. She tried in vain to match Gunter with this lady’s elusive name. Perhaps it’s a case of mistaken identity.
How did anyone from the past recognise her? Mirror World and nanobot repair from the burns in her first accident had darkened her skin. Letitia checked her hand. Still the colour of cedar.
‘Poor Gunter, we haven’t been able to find him. He left after the disaster, you know, the bombing of our ship. He blamed himself for your disappearance.’ The lady guided her, striding towards the banks of the river. ‘But…it was my fault; I should’ve never…’ She stopped at a corner and announced, ‘Here we are! The Fish’n Chip shop!’
She led the way through the open white-framed doorway to the full-bodied aroma of sizzling oil, batter and chips, tessellated tiles and stainless-steel benches. A few bored customers reclined on a wooden bench seat that lined the shopfront, reading Readers Digests from the 1950’s.
Letitia peered at the magazine of a disinterested patron to the left of her. “Behind the Iron Curtain” the cover advertised. Letitia leaned back to check what that article was all about. The man narrowed his eyes and glared at her. Then, he stood up, marched to the counter, and spoke to the manageress in muffled tones, furtive glances and fingers pointed in her direction.
Letitia’s chest tightened. They’re going to ask me to leave, she thought.
‘Do you want whiting, Letitia?’ her blonde friend, also standing at the counter, called back over her shoulder.
‘Yeah, okay,’ while waiting for the inevitable directive to move outside. After all, it was the 1960’s and Letitia was the wrong colour.
Letitia noticed the blonde make an emphasised gesture in her direction, and say, ‘My friend will have one piece of whiting and I’ll have one piece of garfish with minimum chips.’
The manageress, a woman with bottled auburn waves, and olive-toned skin, looked at Letitia, and opened her mouth to speak.
The blonde cut off her unspoken words and in her best German accent, said, ‘Listen lady, she’s my friend, got it? We’re better than that, aren’t we? That’s why we come to Australia. We are all different, but we are all human beings. Besides, I don’t know why she’s so tanned, but she is as white as me; I know her parents, they come from Europe, migrants from Germany, just as you are a migrant from Greece, am I right? So, just make those fish and chips, okay?’
Something clicked. A key turned in her mind. Letitia studied the blonde lady handing over the cash to the Greek vendor. Frieda. Only Frieda Muller would have the courage to stand up for her rights; human rights. Frieda who tolerated no nonsense. Frieda, who once confided that she’d defied Hitler, and somehow survived. Something to do with being Lebensborn, she remembered. Admittedly the last time she met Frieda, she had become Frieda Thumm and was well into her fifties (give or take a decade or two with the distortion of light-speed travel). Letitia wondered how she could have struggled to recognise her. She who defended her in the fish and chip shop and now stood before her with a newspaper parcel of battered fish and chips was Frieda. But which Frieda? Letitia assumed this world’s Frieda.
Letitia perched on the bench.
The man adjusted his black-rimmed glasses, and with head bowed, walked back to the space next to Letitia. He mumbled an apology which Letitia acknowledged with a slight nod.
Letitia rubbed her hands together and smiled at Frieda. She had retrieved the name. She had found her friend’s identity. At least that was one good outcome from an otherwise less than ordinary day. At least she had one friend in a world and time when she calculated to have few friends. There was Fritz. But where was Fritz?
Frieda strode up to her and she leapt up to follow her friend. ‘Come,’ she commanded, ‘Let’s get to my house before the chips get cold.’
In the lingering late afternoon sun, the sun that refused to go away, the sun that refused to set, the friends wended through the narrow streets of this aged and historic part of town. The roads were steep as they were narrow. Parked cars on both sides, blocked some roadways which had not caught up to the 20th Century. Letitia marvelled at the vintage nature of the vehicles. She had not seen a FJ Holden in decades. The place was cluttered with them. And brand-new Holden Premiers, the luxury version, a collector’s dream on Mirror World. And there, she mused, was a Ford Falcon, more angular than its Holden counterpart; commonly a hoon car on Mirror World (in the eastern states of Australia, mostly). In Mirror Baudin State (South Australia), only Renaults and Peugeots would do. Letitia had to hide the smirk on her face as she contemplated the ugly future of these carbon spewing air-polluting machines.
‘So, Frieda, what may I ask are you doing in this part of the world?’ Letitia ventured to enquire.
Frieda frowned. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean…um…’ Letitia hesitated hoping to guess correctly, and whispered, ‘um, um, Hobart?’
‘Hobart? But Letitia, we’ve been here for ages,’ Frieda replied. ‘Thing is, how did you end up here?’ She made a sharp turn at a white rendered wall of a two-story bungalow overlooking the bay.
‘Long story,’ Letitia exhaled briefly, relieved that she had guessed correctly, about Hobart. ‘I mean, are you working?’
Frieda returned a pan-faced expression which read as “are you stupid?” Then she pressed the small hand-held device and magically the gate in the wall opened. ‘Nup, I don’t need to work. I’m a lady of leisure. I’ve achieved “effluence”.’ Frieda’s tongue remained firmly in her cheek.
‘You mean, affluence? Lucky you!’ Letitia remarked admiring the fine leadlight birds that framed the light-coloured pine door. She absorbed the unique brisk scent of pine and commented almost involuntarily, ‘Wow! What’s that smell?’
‘You mean the door? It’s Huon Pine. Solid…’ Frieda began to explain before another, fouler odour accompanied by a large darker four-legged creature, assaulted Letitia.
Frieda’s train of thought and keys were lost in her black Labrador’s excitement to greet the unfortunate visitor, namely Letitia. In between the fever of yelps and her face covered in fermented slobber, she could hear Frieda yell, ‘Jack! Off Jack! Down! Down! Sit Jack! Naughty boy! Get off Jack!’ But her commands were in vain. Jack, the dog kept on jumping all over Letitia, and slathering to his heart’s content.
As the torture by dog continued, Frieda’s tone changed from playful to serious and Letitia nostrils were disturbed by a particularly pungent smell that lingered on her clothes. It had that thin weedy, off-meaty, faecal, with a touch of compost aroma about it. She brushed her uniform defensively and shrieked, ‘Ugh! What’s that smell?’ Bits of pitch-black dirt the consistency of sludge clung to her fingertips.
The Labrador gave a final yelp and flung itself after a flying fried fish.
‘Quick, while he’s distracted.’ Frieda pushed her friend through the door and slammed it shut. Once inside in a darkened entrance hall, she exclaimed with disgust, ‘Pooh! What’s that smell? It’s revolting!’
Smeared over Letitia’s lime green pants and top were the tell-tale marks of a dog’s misadventure. ‘Ugh! What is this stuff?’ She choked on the strong stench of sewerage. ‘It’s worse than Boris! When you said that you was “effluent”, I didn’t think you meant literally.’ She pinched her nose with added effect.
‘Oh, gore! The bleeding dog’s got into the blood ‘n bone. Sheisse!’ Frieda’s language was becoming increasingly colourful, and Letitia had no doubt that she was indeed Frieda. She grabbed a hold of Letitia’s arm and escorted her up the stairs. ‘Come on, you better get out of these rags – have a shower – I’ll get a change of clothes – and put these…’ she covered her nose with her sleeve and breathed out a nasal cry, ‘Phew! These into the wash must go!’
[So, continues the development 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…]
Out of Context, Just out of Reach
As the doors began to close, a flash of white grabbed the lift doors, wrenched them open. The mean nurse, rushed in, huffing and puffing. Letitia steeled herself, half-expecting her to make another comment related to her cleaning ability, but she ignored her. The nurse smiling, instead turned her attention to the tall blonde golfer.
‘I’m sorry, doctor, someone must have moved her without our authority. You know this hospital, one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing,’ her apology dripped like syrup.
‘That’s okay. But interrupting my round of golf?’ he sucked in his breath through his perfect set of teeth in a way that seemed unusually familiar to Letitia. She studied him as he casually pointed the butt end of the club towards the door, willing it to open.
‘Oh, I’m sorry for the inconvenience.’ The nurse grovelled. Letitia mused at the dramatic change in her demeanour; she had morphed from ostentatious superiority to humble submission. ‘But Doctor, you will return after your round of golf to assess the patient.’
‘You’ll have to find her first.’ The doctor’s golf club levered the doors open and without a glance behind him he strode out into the ground floor lobby and disappeared through the double doors leading to the outside.
Letitia scurried out of the lift leaving the nurse to descend to the basement. While in the lobby, she pretended to dust and clean the light fittings and fixtures. Once the elevator doors were firmly closed behind her, she ditched the cleaning equipment and raced through the entrance doors in search of the doctor. She had remembered. Was he her IGSF doctor friend, Joseph? Or someone else familiar, from her past? Whoever, he must know where Fritz was. She chastised herself for being so hasty and escaping when she should’ve been patient waiting for the IGSF to sort her situation out.
As she stepped through the double-glazed sliding doors she blinked. Confused. The busy street in a haze of humid summer heat was not how she remembered the station in Antarctica. Classic Holden and Ford cars running left and right roared past her. The tunnel of three-or-four-storey buildings arranged in many shades of grey competed with the brilliant blue sky above. She squinted and strained her vision for a sign and some sense to her whereabouts. A sign at the corner of the street read “Argyle Street”. She could discern the ominous presence of a police station over the road just past the traffic lights. She decided to walk swiftly in the opposite direction. Letitia had no intention of being labelled an illegal alien.
With her head down and eyes fixed on the paving of the footpath, she kept on walking, and walking. Escaping the hospital. Evading the police. But clueless on how to find the golfclub wielding doctor. She pushed herself forward in a random direction vaguely aware of crossing streets filled with people and traffic, until confronted by another set of glass doors. She pushed open one of these doors walked through, almost colliding with a desk.
A lady’s voice asked, ‘May I help you?’
‘Oh, sorry!’ she mumbled in surprise.
‘May I help you?’ the woman shrouded behind the glass pane and counter repeated.
Letitia gazed around. People, men mainly inserted little leather books under gaps of similar glass panes at the people behind them and seconds later collected wads of notes.
‘Must be in a bank,’ Letitia murmured. ‘Er, any chance for a…nah, don’t worry, oh, I forgot my, er-um, passbook,’ she garbled. Memories of her life in Australia in the 1960’s began to emerge as she escaped the bank and into the sunlight.
Letitia wandered along a cobblestone footpath. When she looked up. A fish and chip shop. The kind that offered steak sandwiches and hot cinnamon donuts. The place was hopping with people lining up and spilling out onto the pavement. The aroma of cinnamon donuts freshly formed out of the hot oil, made her empty stomach growl. She dug deep into the pockets of the cleaner’s uniform hoping in vain for forgotten coin. The pockets were deep, yet like her stomach, they were empty. She stood in the middle of the lane and watched with envy the happy contented faces of shoppers as they sat at alfresco near the wharf sipping coffee from paper cups and stuffing their mouths with cake. The seagulls that scavenged nearby were being more well fed than her. Gulls growing fat on surplus chips and unwanted beef sandwiches. She wished she were a seagull. No one would want to feed a stray middle-aged woman dressed in a lime green cleaning suit.
A family of four consisting of mum, dad and two small children organised themselves and vacated a picnic table near Letitia. On the small wooden table flanked by well-worn bench seats, were leftovers. The sandwiches were half-eaten, and the chips slathered with tomato sauce lay discarded in amongst the white wrapping paper.
Letitia darted at the table and greedily planted herself in one of the metal chairs. She began to reach for the sandwich and then thought out aloud, ‘This is ridiculous!’ She then became conscious that a man with white hair and large nose seated at a park bench nearby was staring at her.
Utilising the cleaning disguise to her advantage, Letitia reached down and adjusted the white hospital runners, tightening the shoelaces. Upon completing that diversionary task, she rose from the table and as a cleaner would do, gathered up the barely bitten bread, and half-full cups of coffee and chips with sauce, and purposefully headed for the over-flowing grey metal bin.
Acting as though she was loading the rubbish into the chock-full bin, she instead siphoned the uneaten food into the pocket of her trousers and hid one left-over paper cup of coffee under her arm.
Then, keeping her lips pursed, she casually strolled to a small grassy patch behind an oak tree and under its shade, surreptitiously opened her stash. The beef patty sandwiches were still soft and warm although they appeared twisted and squashed from being jammed in her pocket. She crouched down on the lawn and admired the thin white slices, the limp lettuce, the grilled-on cheese, and the processed beef. In normal circumstances she would not touch white bread such as this. Such food was filled with carcinogenic chemicals and pathological fats. But this was no ordinary occasion. Letitia was literally starving. She had spent possibly up to a week in snow and ice without food and in her stint in hospital, had seen no food. She had been running on adrenalin and now that had stopped, Letitia was famished. Boy, the burnt crust looked inviting!
Letitia bit into the soft slice and savoured the blend of sugar, oil and salt mixed with reconstituted portions of beef, lettuce and cheddar cheese. She sculled the coffee. It was cold and bitter, but she didn’t mind. Too hungry to mind.
She mowed her way through the first “steak sandwich” and greedily progressed to the next. In the back of her mind, she knew that she should not be gorging myself and that she would regret it. However, the wonderful, ecstatic sensation and pleasure of eating was too over-whelming, too powerful for her to resist. Ah, the joys of feasting.
Letitia was so focussed on food that she became unaware of the world around her. All that mattered to her was food; food was all that mattered to her.
A tap on the shoulder almost made her choke on a lardy lump of meat. Her head bolted upright with shock and fright.
‘Letitia, is that you?’ A lady’s voice accompanied the shoulder tapping. Her voice sounded familiar.
Letitia swung around to face this gate crasher to her food party. The tall woman had an oval face, with blue eyes framed by straight golden tresses. The woman’s identity to Letitia remained just out of reach; with the place and time out of context, her name eluded Letitia.
‘There you are, Letitia! We’ve found you!’ She smiled and hugged her. ‘It is you! Fancy meeting here in Hobart of all places! How many years has it been?’
A few weary workers emerged out of the tired warehouses near the wharf and soon disappeared down the street. ‘So that’s where I am!’ Letitia muttered.
This twenty-something blonde fixed Letitia a confused expression. ‘What?’ she asked.
‘Oh, er, I meant, of course I remember you! How could I forget? Surely, it wasn’t so long ago.’ Letitia did not want to appear peculiar. She hugged her back. On the other side of her shoulder, she puzzled over who she could be. And how her counterpart in this Out-of-Time World was connected to this woman.
[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.
[An extract from another of my little projects in the War Against Boris the Bytrode Series…]
Escape From the Ice-Cave
She rubbed the frosty walls, her hot hands fused to the ice. Prising her palms free, she blew her stinging hands and then flapped her arms to keep warm. Drops of water trickled around her pooling on the cave floor. She marvelled how the enclosure had expanded to the extent that she could stretch out her arms, the tips of her fingers touching the opposing sides.
‘If only I could fly out of the cave,’ she said.
A groan, then a sigh.
She stood still, arms by her side. She gazed up.
The roof trembled. There was rumbling above her head. The rumbling turned to a roar.
Maybe there’s a search party, she thought. She held that thought and sought some spare piece of clothing to toss through the small gap above. She picked up a soggy scrap of material and prepared to throw. An avalanche of snow swamped her. She tumbled, rolled and suffocated under wave upon wave of frothing ice and snow. Her hand gripped the rag.
With a thud, she hit an icy wall. She gasped; air knocked out of her lungs. A glaring sun and pure white snow assaulted her vision, dazzling her. She blinked; the glare rendered her sightless.
Letitia twisted in the waist-deep snow packed as hard as ice. Her eyes hurt. She squinted and held up her hand. She could just make out a washed-out hand against a backdrop of white. She spun around, slowly, her arms gliding around her on the packed ice as if she were a human drill. Thirsty, she scratched up a ball into her palms. The snow melted under her fingers. She put some crystals to her mouth, the fresh icy water trickled down her throat.
‘Lord,’ she rasped, ‘I’ve been patient enough. I need food and water to survive.’
‘Okay, okay,’ the small voice replied, ‘I’m working on it.’
Once again, an incredible heat overwhelmed Letitia. Her eyes adjusted to the light. Each side, the snow and ice gave way as if it were water, the heat generating from her body causing her frozen captor to melt and form puddles at her feet. She cut through the bank of snow and tottered to freedom. Before her a vista of blue-green sea dotted with icebergs, and a muddy plain with green boxes scattered on it.
Letitia strode down the slope. The hard patches of snow and ice squeaked beneath her numb feet. Had to take care not to slip and slide on this virtual black ice. She headed to what appeared to be faded green shipping containers. The containers seemed to be strewn over a carpet of mission-brown rock as though they were forgotten toy blocks.
Further down the hill, a large shed emerged from the shadows and then a bright red tractor loomed up in the foreground. An old-style ship lurked off to the side, its red hull reflected in the water so still, it appeared as a mirror image.
The air was biting and still, as if holding its breath. Letitia remembered reading that Antarctica was the windiest place on earth, but there was no evidence of that fact this day. Granite-like boulders poked through the mountain blanketed with snow. The heat radiating from within her did nothing for the excruciating pain when she stubbed her foot against a rock.
As she drew closer to the shipping containers, she detected bright orange and red parka padded forms lumbering over the brown ground. Red trucks ferried their human drivers from one Leggo block to another. The closer she came to the settlement, the more impressed she was with the hive of activity.
‘I hope they accept me,’ she murmured and began to feel apprehensive at the thought of imposing herself, her situation, upon this peaceful, industrious community. ‘What if this is another world Boris has sent me to? What if he’s sent me to the Ice Planet? What if the inhabitants are hostile to my kind—human? Or if they’re human, what if they’re prejudiced against people of my colour? I’m not white. Not anymore.’
Letitia remembered the last world, the one Boris said she’d escaped. Black was beautiful. Dark-skinned people were dominant. She’d been so badly burnt, and her DNA so damaged, that the doctors on that world had grafted her skin and reconstructed her DNA sequence to conform to the dominant race. White people had been oppressed on Mirror World; more in the Eastern States, than in Mirror’s Baudin State, the equivalent of South Australia… But on Earth, particularly Australia in the 1960’s, people of colour were marginalised. Letitia shuddered. The indigenous people of the land were considered fauna and denied the right to vote. And when she stepped out with Nathan, the general public of Sydney at that time, shunned her. If this was Earth, then, how would she be treated?
A siren brought Letitia back to the present, this world of winter. She took stock of her predicament—not good; not good at all. Destructive vials of chemicals, catastrophic explosions and a plane blown apart, flashed through her mind. Boris’ threat of the southern polar cap melting, and the world forced into further global warming stabbed her with fear and dread. ‘Will I be blamed? I’m coming out of nowhere. Do I have to alert this unwitting scientific community to this planet’s fate? What if they don’t believe me?’
She glanced down at her tattered rags for clothes. ‘How can I tell these scientists anything? Even if I am on the same world, the scientists still believe mankind have ventured no further than a short trip around Mars with a robot probe. Boris men and their mutant armies are beyond their sceptical comprehension. To these men as much of the world, the recent Fusion bombs were merely the work of terrorists intent on religious and racial wars.’
Letitia sighed and hobbled down a slippery scree slope. She darted past the bright yellow tractor, and lumber-jacket clad fellows dragging a lump of metal over to the khaki green shed. She searched for a door.
The buildings and equipment she passed appeared weathered, and antiquated. She kept thinking that the station would appear different; more updated, more slick, more “science-fictiony”, more modern. She was sure that the brochure about Antarctica which she had gleaned in the airbus, had the buildings more rounded in a saucer shape and standing on stilts. She was positive that the buildings had been portrayed in such a way that they reminded her of the Martians and their craft in War of the Worlds. She had not expected out-dated shipping crates with the constitution of Lego bricks. Still, perhaps that was Mirror World, and so, confirmation that this is Earth.
After detecting a likely door, she stood before it, puzzling how to open it. She tugged hard and down on a metal handle. The door swung open with a jerk and she entered a holding cell. She shoved open another, lighter door. A common room cluttered with walls of pin-up notices, photographs and an obligatory dart board greeted her. A wave of heat washed over her. There were no windows. A green strip of felt for carpet bowls stretched over the floor. Battered coffee tables and chairs that had seen better seasons, hugged the edge of the room making way for the bowls tournament. If the place had been graced with a few dark green slightly deflated cushions, she could have imagined that she was back in the 1960’s at a young peoples’ coffee shop.
The group of seemingly young adults were mainly bearded and unkempt, except for the odd female who was merely unkempt. None of the crowd of strangers were affected by fashion or keeping up appearances. They were focussed on the carpet bowl competition. They ignored her as if she were invisible.
The initial heat receded. Letitia shook, her body jerking, her teeth chattering, as if possessed by demons of the cold. Her bones ached with the chill. Her strength left her, and her legs turned to jelly threatening collapse. She hunted for a stray jacket or knitted rug to throw over herself. She staggered back to the entrance hall and grabbed a fur-lined checked lumber jacket. Aware that she was suffering the effects of hypothermia, she reasoned she had no time to be fashion-conscious. She had heard from fellow compatriots of the IGSF that such a species of fashion existed way back last century, but she, herself, had by-passed the joys of such clothing. During that span of time, the previous encounter with Boris’ attacks had catapulted her into another world where those particular fashions never existed. Just the fancy French ones on Mirror World.
Still weak, she shuffled back into the communal hall and watched the scruffy-looking people with pity. ‘At least they are human,’ she muttered. She mused that they must have been so isolated, so far south, that they had to resort to reject attire from fifty years ago. A calendar with a typical Uluru photo hung askew on the wall. ‘My goodness, even the calendar’s out of date!’ She chuckled half-amused that they would have a 1967 calendar still hanging dolefully on their common room wall.
[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.