An excerpt from “Amnesia”, a work in progress

I remembered a bang.
I remembered the car slewing sideways.
I remember another bang, and then it was lights out.
When I opened my eyes again, I saw the sky.
Or I could be under water.
Everything was blurred.
I tried to focus but I couldn’t. My eyes were full of water.
What happened?
Why was I lying down?
Where was I?
I cast my mind back, trying to remember.
It was a blank.
What, when, who, why and where, questions I should easily be able to answer. Questions any normal person could answer.
I tried to move. Bad, bad mistake.
I did not realise the scream I heard was my own. Just before my body shut down.

“My God! What happened?”
I could hear, not see. I was moving, lying down, looking up.
I was blind. Everything was black.
“Car accident, hit a tree, sent the passenger flying through the windscreen. Pity to poor bastard didn’t get the message that seat belts save lives.”
Was I that poor bastard?
“Report?” A new voice, male, authoritative.
“Multiple lacerations, broken collar bone, broken arm in three places, both legs broken below the knees, one badly. We are not sure of internal injuries, but ruptured spleen, cracked ribs and pierced right lung are fairly evident, x-rays will confirm that and anything else.”
“What isn’t broken?”
“His neck.”
“Then I would have to say we are looking at the luckiest man on the planet.”
I heard shuffling of pages.
“OR1 ready?”
“Yes. On standby since we were first advised.”
“Good. Let’s see if we can weave some magic.”

It was the first word that popped into my head when I surfaced from the bottom of the lake. That first breath, after holding it for so long, was sublime, and, in reality, agonising.

Magic, because it seemed like I’d spent a long time under water.
Or somewhere.
I tried to speak, but couldn’t. The words were just in my head.
Was it night or was it day?
Was it hot, or was it cold?
Where was I?
Around me it felt cool.
It was very quiet. No noise except for the hissing of air through an air-conditioning vent. Or perhaps that was the sound of pure silence. And with it the revelation that silence was not silent. It was noisy.
I didn’t try to move.
Instinctively, somehow I knew not to.
A previous bad experience?
I heard what sounded like a door opening, and very quiet footsteps slowly come into the room. They stopped. I could hear breathing, slightly laboured, a sound I’d heard before.
My grandfather.
He had smoked all his life, until he was diagnosed with lung cancer. But for years before that he had emphysema. The person in the room was on their way, down the same path. I could smell the smoke.
I wanted to tell whoever it was the hazards of smoking.
I couldn’t.
I heard a metallic clanging sound from the end of the bed. A moment later the clicking of a pen, then writing.
“You are in a hospital.” A female voice suddenly said. “You’ve been in a very bad accident. You cannot talk, or move, all you can do, for the moment, is listen to me. I am a nurse. You have been here for 45 days, and just come out of a medically induced coma. There is nothing to be afraid of.”
She had a very soothing voice.
I felt her fingers stroke the back of my hand.
“Everything is fine.”
Define fine, I thought. I wanted to ask her what ‘fine’ meant.
“Just count backwards from 10.”
I didn’t reach seven.

Over the next ten days, that voice became my lifeline to sanity. Every morning I longed to hear it, if only for the few moments she was in the room, those few waking moments when I believed she, and someone else who never spoke, were doing tests. I knew it had to be someone else because I could smell the essence of lavender. My grandmother had worn a similar scent.
It rose above the disinfectant.
I also believed she was another doctor, not the one who had been there the day I arrived. Not the one who had used some ‘magic’ and kept me alive.
It was then, in those moments before she put me under again, that I thought, what if I was paralysed? It would explain a lot. A chill went through me.

The next morning she was back.
“My name is Winifred. We don’t know what your name is, not yet. In a few days, you will be better, and you will be able to ask us questions. You were in an accident, and you were very badly injured, but I can assure you there will be no lasting damage.”
More tests, and then, when I expected the lights to go out, they didn’t. Not for a few minutes more. Perhaps this was how I would be integrated back into the world. A little bit at a time.
The next morning, she came later than usual, and I’d been awake for a few minutes. “You have bandages over your eyes and face. You had bad lacerations to your face, and glass in your eyes. We will know more when the bandages come off in a few days. Your face will take longer to heal. It was necessary to do some plastic surgery.”
Lacerations, glass in my eyes, car accident, plastic surgery. By logical deduction, I knew I was the poor bastard thrown through the windscreen. It was a fleeting memory from the day I was admitted.
How could that happen?
That was the first of many startling revelations. The second was the fact I could not remember the crash. Equally shocking, in that same moment was the fact I could not remember before the crash either, and only vague memories after.
But the most shattering of all these revelations was the one where I realised I could not remember my name.
I tried to calm down, sensing a rising panic.
I was just disoriented, I told myself. After 45 days in an induced coma, it had messed with my mind, and it was only a temporary lapse. Yes, that’s what it was, a temporary lapse. I would remember tomorrow. Or the next day.
Sleep was a blessed relief.

The next day I didn’t wake feeling nauseous. Perhaps they’d lowered the pain medication. I’d heard that morphine could have that effect. Then, how could I know that, but not who I am?
I knew now Winifred the nurse was preparing me for something very bad. She was upbeat, and soothing, giving me a new piece of information each morning. This morning, “You do not need to be afraid. Everything is going to be fine. The doctor tells me you are going to recover with very little scarring. You will need some physiotherapy to recover from your physical injuries, but that’s in the future. We need to let you mend a little bit more before then.”
So, I was not going to be able to leap out of bed, and walk out of the hospital any time soon. I don’t suppose I’d ever leapt out of bed, except as a young boy. I suspect I’d sustained a few broken bones. I guess learning to walk again was the least of my problems.
But, there was something else. I picked it up in the timbre of her voice, a hesitation, or reluctance. It sent another chill through me.
This time I was left awake for an hour before she returned.
This time sleep was restless.
There were scenes playing in my mind, nothing I recognised, and nothing lasting longer than a glimpse. Me. Others, people I didn’t know. Or perhaps I knew them and couldn’t remember them.
Until they disappeared, slowly like the glowing dot in the centre of the computer screen, before finally fading to black.

The morning the bandages were to come off she came in bright and early and woken me. I had another restless night, the images becoming clearer, but nothing recognisable.
“This morning the doctor will be removing the bandages over your eyes. Don’t expect an immediate effect. Your sight may come back quickly or it may come back slowly, but we believe it will come back.”
I wanted to believe I was not expecting anything, but I was. It was probably human nature. I did not want to be blind as well as paralysed. I had to have at least one reason to live.
I dozed again until I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder. I could smell the lavender, the other doctor was back. And I knew the hand on my shoulder was Winifred’s. She told me not to be frightened.
I was amazed to realise in that moment, I wasn’t.
I heard the scissors cutting the bandages.
I felt the bandage being removed, and the pressure coming off my eyes. I could feel the pads covering both eyes.
Then a moment where nothing happened.
Then the pads being gently lift and removed.
I blinked my eyes, once, twice. Nothing.
“Just hold on a moment,” Winifred said. A few seconds later I could feel a cool towel wiping my face, and then gently wiping my eyes. Perhaps there was ointment, or something else in them.
Then a flash. Well, not a flash, but like when a light is turned on and off. A moment later, it was brighter, not the inky blackness of before, but a shade of grey.
She wiped my eyes again.
I blinked a few more times, and then the light returned, and it was like looking through water, at distorted and blurry objects in the distance.
I blinked again, and she wiped my eyes again.
Blurry objects took shape. A face looking down on me, an elderly lady with a kindly face, surely Winifred, who was smiling. And on the opposite side of the bed, the doctor, a Chinese woman of indescribable beauty.
I nodded.
“You can see?”
I nodded again.
I nodded.
“Very good. We will just draw the curtains now. We don’t want to overdo it. Tomorrow we will be taking off the bandages on your face. Then, it will be the next milestone. Talking.”
I couldn’t wait.

When morning came, I found myself afraid. Winifred had mentioned scarring, there were bandages on my face. I knew, but wasn’t quite sure how I knew, I wasn’t the handsomest of men before the accident, so this might be an improvement.
I was not sure why I didn’t think it would be the case.
They came at mid morning, the nurse, Winifred, and the doctor, the exquisite Chinese. Perhaps she was the distraction, taking my mind of the reality of what I was about to see.
Another doctor came into the room, before the bandages were removed, and he was introduced as the plastic surgeon that had ‘repaired’ the ravages of the accident. It had been no easy job, but, with a degree of egotism, he did say he was one of the best in the world.
I found it hard to believe, if he was, that he would be at a small country hospital.
“Now just remember, what you might see now is not how you will look in a few months time.”
Warning enough.
The Chinese doctor started removing the bandages. She did it slowly, and made sure it did not hurt. My skin was very tender, and I suspect still bruised, either from the accident or the surgery, I didn’t know.
Then it was done.
The plastic surgeon gave his work a thorough examination and seemed pleased with his work. “Coming along nicely,” he said to the other doctor. He issued some instructions on how to manage the skin, nodded to me, and I thanked him before he left.
I noticed Winifred had a mirror in her hand, and was somewhat reticent in using it. “As I said,” she said noticing me looking at the mirror, “what you see now will not be the final result. The doctor said it was going to heal with very little scarring. You have been very fortunate he was available. Are you ready?”
I nodded.
She showed me.
I tried not to be reviled at the red and purple mess that used to be my face. At a guess I would have to say he had to put it all back together again, but, not knowing what I looked like before, I had no benchmark. All I had was a snippet of memory that told me I was not the tall, dark, and handsome type.
And I still could not talk. There was a reason, he had worked on that area too. Just breathing hurt. I think I would save up anything I had to say for another day. I could not even smile. Or frown. Or grimace.
“We’ll leave you for a while. Everyone needs a little time to get used to the change. I suspect you are not sure if there has been an improvement on last year’s model. Well, time will tell.”
A new face?
I could not remember the old one.
My memory still hadn’t returned.

Searching for locations: New York from a different perspective

It is an amazing coincidence that both times we have flown into New York, it is the day after the worst snow storms.

The first time, we were delayed out of Los Angeles and waited for hours before the plane left.  We had a free lunch and our first introduction to American hamburgers and chips.  Wow!

I had thought we had left enough time with connections to make it in time for New Year’s Eve, like four to five hours before.  As it turned out, we arrived in New York at 10:30, and thanks to continual updating with our limousine service, he was there to take us to the hotel.

The landing was rough, the plane swaying all over the place and many of the passengers were sick.  Blankets were in short supply!

We made it to the hotel, despite snow, traffic, and the inevitable problems associated with NYE in New York, with enough time to throw our baggage in the room, put on our anti cold clothes, and get out onto the streets.

We could not go to Times Square but finished up at Central Park with thousands of others, in time to see the ball drop on a big screen, exchange new year’s greetings, and see the fireworks.

Then, as luck would have it, we were able to get an authentic New York hotdog, just before the police moved the vendor on, and our night was complete.

The second time we were the last plane out of Los Angeles to New York.  After waiting and waiting, we boarded, and then started circling the airport waiting for takeoff permission.  We stopped once to refuel, and then the pilot decided we were leaving.

This time we took our eldest granddaughter, who was 9 at the time, and she thought it was an adventure.  It was.

When we landed, we were directed to an older part of the airport, a disused terminal.  We were not the only plane to land, at about one in the morning, but one of about four.  The terminal building filled very quickly, and we were all waiting for baggage.  The baggage belts broke so there were a lot of porters bring the baggage in by hand.

One part of the terminal was just a sea of bags.  To find ours our granddaughter, who, while waiting, sat on top of the cabin baggage playing her DSI until the announcement our bags were available, walked across the top of the bags till she found them.  Thankfully no one was really looking in her direction.

Once again we kept our limousine service updated, and, once we knew what terminal we were at, he came to pick us up.  This time we arrived some days before NYE, so there was not so much of a rush.  We got to the hotel about 3:30 in the morning, checked in, and then went over the road to an all-night diner where we ordered hamburgers and chips.

And a Dr. Pepper.

“The Things We Do For Love” – Coming soon

Is love the metaphorical equivalent to ‘walking the plank’; a dive into uncharted waters?

For Henry the only romance he was interested in was a life at sea, and when away from it, he strived to find sanctuary from his family and perhaps life itself.  It takes him to a small village by the sea, s place he never expected to find another just like him, Michelle, whom he soon discovers is as mysterious as she is beautiful.

Henry had long since given up the notion of finding romance, and Michelle couldn’t get involved for reasons she could never explain, but in the end both acknowledge that something happened the moment they first met.  

Plans were made, plans were revised, and hopes were shattered.

A chance encounter causes Michelle’s past to catch up with her, and whatever hope she had of having a normal life with Henry, or anyone else, is gone.  To keep him alive she has to destroy her blossoming relationship, an act that breaks her heart and shatters his.

But can love conquer all?

It takes a few words of encouragement from an unlikely source to send Henry and his friend Radly on an odyssey into the darkest corners of the red light district in a race against time to find and rescue the woman he finally realizes is the love of his life.

The cover, at the moment, looks like this:


Ideas come from everywhere

I have an electronic note book on my smart phone and writing pads at the ready at home in my office/writing room/library.

As soon as one hits, I get it down, either on paper, or on the phone app. I use SomNote as it’s easy to export the text to an email, or have a version of the app running on my computer and just copy and paste. SomNote is great because I can used it anywhere.

Of course, it doesn’t work so well in the shower, so I’m still waiting for a waterproof phone. Or perhaps it can wait for a few minutes until I’m finished.

But, the trouble with that it, these ideas come so quickly and are sometimes so vivid that they need to be put down as quickly as possible. I have come up with the perfect dialogue for a tricky scene, and played it all out in my head, and by the time I got to the paper, it was almost gone.

Perhaps a whiteboard and a permanent marker on the wall.

Or is that going to far?

A long time ago, I received a portable tape recorder for a present, you know, the one you can hold in your hand, and the tapes so small you wonder how much will fit on it. The gifter said that when ideas came to me, all I had to do was speak. It was also voice activated.

Needless to say that conjured up a few ideas right there.

But, I used it, but I found it quite weird to be talking, ostensibly to myself, in the car whilst driving home, or go to, work, and the curious looks I’d get from others. One thing it did teach me was that when a conversation was repkayed, it would sound ok or like most of the time, hardly what one expected a conversation would really be like.

So, because of that device, I learned to read out all conversations, and if they sounded stupid, they were.

So, ideas come in the shower, ideas come while driving, ideas come when reading the newspaper, ideas even come when reading books.

Which leads me to another point that I learned early on. Writers must read. Not only novels of their chosen genre, but any reference books that go with it. Research was, a friend and more successful author than I told me, was mandatory.

So too was the reading to the classics, old English, and sometimes American, literature, to gain an appreciation for the written word. We might not follow those styles, but we can learn the majesty of the English language.

That author taught me a lot, though at the time I didn;t realise it. Perhaps I thpought I was already smart enough to write, but I’m guessing that it took a long time before I felt my writing was worth reading before publishing it.

I don’t profess to have a fully understanding of the language. I might have loved that school subject called English, and later in University, creative writing and literature, but not all of it soaked in. But writing is one of those odd things, that it can take many forms and styles, but at the end of the day, if the reader understands where the story is going, and when at the end, is satisfied that it was ‘a good read’, then the author’s work is done.

The only trouble is, getting the next idea, and then the were withal to write a second book, or third. It is said everyone as one book in them. For those who can write more, well, that might be what might be called, a gift.

My trouble is, I have too many ideas, too many starts and brief outlines to work with, I don’t know which story to start on next. I guess being spoinlt for choice is a good thing, yes?

The story behind the story: A Case of Working With the Jones Brothers

To write a private detective serial has always been one of the items at the top of my to-do list, though trying to write novels and a serial, as well as a blog, and maintain a social media presence, well, you get the idea.

But I made it happen, from a bunch of episodes I wrote a long, long time ago, used these to start it, and then continue on, then as now, never having much of an idea where it was going to end up, or how long it would take to tell the story.

That, I think is the joy of ad hoc writing, even you, as the author, have as much idea of where it’s going as the reader does.

It’s basically been in the mill since 1990, and although I finished it last year, it looks like the beginning to end will have taken exactly 30 years.  Had you asked me 30 years ago if I’d ever get it finished, the answer would be maybe?

My private detective, Harry Walthenson

I’d like to say he’s from that great literary mold of Sam Spade, or Mickey Spillane, or Phillip Marlow, but he’s not.

But, I’ve watched Humphrey Bogart play Sam Spade with much interest, and modeled Harry and his office on it.  Similarly, I’ve watched Robert Micham play Phillip Marlow with great panache, if not detachment, and added a bit of him to the mix.

Other characters come into play, and all of them, no matter what period they’re from, always seem larger than life.  I’m not above stealing a little of Mary Astor, Peter Lorre or Sidney Greenstreet, to breathe life into beguiling women and dangerous men alike.

Then there’s the title, like

The Case of the Unintentional Mummy – this has so many meanings in so many contexts, though I image back in Hollywood in the ’30s and ’40s, this would be excellent fodder for Abbott and Costello

The Case of the Three-Legged Dog – Yes, I suspect there may be a few real-life dogs with three legs, but this plot would involve something more sinister.  And if made out of plaster, yes, they’re always something else inside.

But for mine, to begin with, it was “The Case of the …”, because I had no idea what the case was going to be about, well, I did, but not specifically.

Then I liked the idea of calling it “The Case of the Brother’s Revenge” because I began to have a notion there was a brother no one knew about, but that’s stuff for other stories, not mine, so then went the way of the others.

Now it’s called ‘A Case of Working With the Jones Brothers’, finished the first three drafts, and at the editor for the last.

I have high hopes of publishing it in early 2021.  It even has a cover.


The cinema of my dreams – It’s a treasure hunt – Episode 43

Here’s the thing…

Every time I close my eyes, I see something different.

I’d like to think the cinema of my dreams is playing a double feature but it’s a bit like a comedy cartoon night on Fox.

But these dreams are nothing to laugh about.

Once again there’s a new installment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.


For a thug like Alex to actually have something that resembled a good idea, perhaps it was more the people he surrounded himself with that made him look clever.

Boggs had not mentioned anything about the people who owned the land before the Naval yard had been constructed. Perhaps he had maps dating back to then, or maybe he didn’t. Boggs didn’t exactly confide in me everything he knew.

Maybe he didn’t trust me.

But there was a new lead now, courtesy of Alex, and it was one that I was going to chase down and bring it to Boggs at the appropriate time.

I need to find information about the Ormiston family, and whether or not there were any descendants in the area. But first, I would have to go to the library and talk to the ‘old biddy’, Gwendoline Frobisher, Gwen to her friends. Fortunately, I knew her well from the days of studying in the library.

And on some of my free days, helped her out with cataloging and returning books to their shelf positions. She only had one helper then, and she was older the Gwen, and not a lot of help putting books back on the higher shelves.

The rest of my shift was uneventful, and I closed and locked the door at precisely 11 pm. On the way to where I left my bicycle, my cell phone rang. Boggs? He knew when I finished, and how punctual I was when leaving.

I looked at the screen. Private Number.

I was going to ignore it, but, in the end, curiosity got the better of me.



Nadia. What was she calling me for at this hour of the night?

“I told you not to call me Smidge.”

“Sorry, a force of habit. It sort of suits you though.”

“Then I’m hanging up.”

I went to press the disconnect button, but I could hear her saying, ‘don’t do that, I have some news.”

I waited a few seconds before I answered, “What news.”

“Not the sort you talk of over the phone.”

But it is the sort of hook someone would use to lure you to a place where Vince could beat you up. She had done it before.

“Not if it’s a trap. Sorry, but too many bad memories of your treachery, Nadia.”

“It’s not like that, now. You know what I think of Vince these days.”

“I know how you’d like me to think you think of Vince, but that could be all show. You are, after all, a Cossatino, and you can’t change those spots.”

“I can, and I have. Promise. Meet me at the hotel.”


“It’s not as if anyone’s going to notice, and, if they do, you can guess what they’ll be thinking.”

I sighed. It was giving me a headache. “Half an hour,” I said, and disconnected the call.

Half of me was saying not to go, the other half was intrigued, not so much for the news, but visiting Nadia in the middle of the night. Many years ago, I used have dreams about Nadia, not ones that were spoken of out loud. Now I had the chance to fulfill one; not so sure.

Near to midnight, everyone should be in bed, everyone except those staying at the hotel. Lights we on in several of the rooms, and a customer was in the office.

I parked the bike near the office and walked quickly to her room, knocked on the door lightly, and braced myself for the ‘surprise’, Vince waiting for me.

She opened the door and I looked over her shoulder. It looked empty but there was a lot of space I couldn’t see from that position.

“There’s no one here.” She grabbed me by the shoulder and dragged me in, looked up and down the corridor, then closed the door.

I quickly checked the bathroom. Clothes hanging from the shower rail, a very messy room. My impression of her was shattered.

“You see anything interesting in there?”

I assumed she was referring to the underwear. There might have been a momentary stray thought, but it was not one I’d admit to.

And in her dressing gown, it was hard to suppress the shive down my spine.

I sat on the end of the unmade bed. An odd thought, didn’t she let the housemaids in to tidy up, or, had she spent all day in bed? Scrub those thoughts.

“What is this news?”

“What were you doing at the mall?”

Was that Nadia in the yellow? I glanced around her room and then my eyes rested for a second on a yellow jacked tossed in a corner on the floor. Damn.

“What mall? I tried to sound convincingly surprised.

“You know what mall. You were with Boggs. What were you two up to?”

“I thought you had news for me?”

“I have. Stay away from that place. Otherwise, you might get buried there. That’s the Benderby’s torture chamber, and where they bury the evidence of their crimes.”

“Those are only rumors.”

“Not according to Vince. He reckons he’s seen a body there.”

“Perhaps he was mistaking it for a dressed mannequin. Even I’ve seen that.”

“You’re a fool. Don’t keep following that Boggs around like his little lap dog. He’s eventually going to get you into a mess you can’t get out of. There’s a lot of his father in him. Doesn’t know when to let it go.”

“This coming from Vince or you, because it sure sounds like Vince trying to put us of the scent.”

“What do you think happened to that archaeologist they found on Rico’s boat?”

“Well, my first thought was the Benderby’s did for him. As far as I can tell, the Benderby’s got him to verify the provenance of the gold coins they found on the ocean bed.”

“You mean the two surfers?”

“The Benderby’s bought them off them.”

“You mean the Benderby’s paid them, then two days later they turn up in a dive hotel having overdosed on heroin and not a cent to their names? That event was not widely known because Benderby bought off the reporter for the local paper.

“If you know about it, why did the Cossatino’s make some noise?”

“Because it was their heroin.”

This was terrifying, to be caught between a turf war with either side willing to stitch up the other, for points, or for their silence. Boggs and I were two small fish in a very smelly pond, with no chance at outwitting these two.

“Life’s complicated,” I said.

“It doesn’t have to be.”
© Charles Heath 2020

“One Last Look”, nothing is what it seems

A single event can have enormous consequences.

A single event driven by fate, after Ben told his wife Charlotte he would be late home one night, he left early, and by chance discovers his wife having dinner in their favourite restaurant with another man.

A single event where it could be said Ben was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Who was this man? Why was she having dinner with him?

A simple truth to explain the single event was all Ben required. Instead, Charlotte told him a lie.

A single event that forces Ben to question everything he thought he knew about his wife, and the people who are around her.

After a near-death experience and forced retirement into a world he is unfamiliar with, Ben finds himself once again drawn back into that life of lies, violence, and intrigue.

From London to a small village in Tuscany, little by little Ben discovers who the woman he married is, and the real reason why fate had brought them together.

It is available on Amazon here:

In a word: Stick

Everyone knows what a stick is, it’s a lump of wood that you throw out in front of you, and if your dog is inclined to, he will run out and fetch it back.

Of course, there’s the obstinate ones who just lie down on the ground and look at you like you’re foolishly throwing away something useful.

For instance, that stick, and a few others that would be very useful to light a campfire, or just a woodfire in the house, during winter.

Or it can be a stick of wood needed for something else, like a building project, of of those highly secret affairs that go on in the locked shed at the bottom of the garden.

I’m sure the dog who refuses to fetch sticks knows exactly what is going on there, but is disinclined to say.


If you are looking at the gooey sense of the word, there is an old saying, if you throw enough mud, some of it sticks’.

Yes, you can stick stuff to stuff, such as words cut out of various newspapers to make up a ransom, or warning, note.

Too many mystery movies, I know.

Paint will stick to timber, or any surface really.

Mud sticks to the bottom of shoes or boots and then becomes analysable evidence.

I can stick to you like glue, which means, really, where you go I go, quite handy if you are trying to stop an opposition player from scoring in a game.

I can use a walking stick, beat someone with a stick, use a stick to fly a plane, or a gear stick to move a car.

I’m sure, if you think about it, you can come up with a dozen more ways to use it.



I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 33

Space is the ultimate getaway…

Our mission, to explore other galaxies and find, if there was, new life forms, was one that we knew might be a life long mission. It was one of the reasons I signed on; put simply there was nothing back on earth to keep me there.

Everyone had signed on, knowing that it was possible they might never return home, and, indeed, at the start of the voyage, that had been a distinct possibility.

We had not known about the upscaled propulsion, nor the weaponry the ship had, but that, I worked out in the end, was more deliberate on the part of space command. The less people back home who knew of our capabilities, the better.

Having got past the attack, and the discovery of a base on Oberon, one of Uranus’s moons, we were free to go back to our primary mission.

To be honest, I was happy we’d been told to resume our mission. There was a lot of items on the ship that needed fixing, modifying, or upgrading, and it would take time, that time it would take us to get to the first stopover on a long voyage.

And perhaps a little relieved that the Admiral had confirmed my appointment as Captain, not his first choice, but that given experience and time in space, I was certainly the most qualified.

There was something else he was going to say, you know when people stop short, and I though about asking him, but in the end, decided it couldn’t be anything that was a deal breaker.

That first day after leaving Uranus, I gave the speech that the former captain was going to give, and whether he wrote it or not, it seemed fitting, and poignant.

Ftom the outset, it was going to be a voyage measured in years, and it still would be, though not quite as long as first thought.

At the speed of light, it was a four year journey from our planet, to the next known earth like planet in the next galaxy, a planet named Proxima b.

By all accounts it was unliveable, but making observations from 4 and a half light years away was hardly what I would call a thorough review.

Perhaps closer up it might have more redeeming features. It might even support life. We’d find out when we got there.

In that, there was a debate about the true speed of this vessel, and over the ensuing weeks, the subject of a guessing game that all crew members could participate in went from a rumour to reality, except the engineers.

As we approached what might be Pluto’s orbit, it was a strange feeling being so far out from home, and I had expected to see more than just the inky darkness outside the ship, but any impression we might have assumed we would see from watching old Scy Fy episodes of interstellar travel was far from the reality.

In fact, there were times when it hardly felt like we were moving. There were times when it felt like just like being back on earth, except the city was within the confines of a very large ship with no roads out of town.

A holiday was a trip to the virtual reality centre, where it was possible to go anywhere or do anything without leaving your armchair. There were theatres, restaurants, sporting facilities, even a mall. There was a library, a school, and a group of crew representatives who were there to work on issues any member of the crew had.

I played squash and tennis and the occasional game of basketball, and the rest of the time, meetings, inspections, and the watch. My favourite was the night shift, not that there was any distinction between day and night, but one of the crews concerns was that lack of a boundary that designated days, so we instituted a version of day and night, and Engineering marvel at creating a world based on New York’s standard time.

All that took three months before everyone had settled into a routine.

Of course, it couldn’t last.

© Charles Heath 2021

“Anyone can have a bad day” – a short story

It had been one of those days, you know, the sort where you hoped, when you woke up again, it would be a distant memory if not gone altogether. Everything had gone wrong, the handover from my shift to the next, longer than usual, I got home late to find the building’s security system malfunctioning, and after everything that could go wrong had, I was late getting to bed, which meant I was going to be tired and cranky even before my shift started.

But what topped it all off was that the alarm didn’t go off. It was not as if I hadn’t set it, I remembered doing it. There was something else in play.

I rolled over and instantly noticed how dark it was. It was never this dark. It was why I chose an apartment as high up as I could, there would always be light coming from the advertising sign on the roof of the building over the road at night, or direct sunlight not blotted out by surrounding buildings.

I also left the curtains open, deliberately. I liked the notion of being able to see out, sometimes looking at the stars, other times watching the rain, but mostly to see that I was not in a dark place.

Not like now.

I got out of bed and went over to the window. Yes, there were lights, but they were all the way down on the street level. Everywhere else, nothing. It had to be a power blackout. Our first in a long time. I should have noticed the air conditioning was not on, and it was almost silent inside the room.

The apartment had windows that opened, not very far, but enough to allow some airflow, and the room feeling stuffy, I opened one in the bedroom. Instantly, sounds drifted up from street level, and looking down I could see the flashing lights of police cars and fire trucks, as well as the sounds of sirens.

The cold air was refreshing.

It took a few minutes before I realized the elevators would not be working, and I remembered the only pitfall of having a high-up apartment, it was a long way down by the stairs, and even longer going back up.

In the distance, I could see other buildings, about ten blocks away, with their lights on. It had to be a localized blackout, or perhaps a brownout. We had been having problems across the city with power supply caused by an unexplained explosion at several power stations on the grid.

Some were saying it was a terrorist attack, others were saying the antiquated infrastructure had finally given out.

My attention was diverted from the activity below by the vibration of my cell phone on the bedside table. I looked over at the clock and saw it was 3:10 in the morning, not a time I usually got a phone call.

I crossed the room and looked at the screen, just as the vibrating stopped. Louis Bernard. Who was Louis Bernard? It was not a name I was familiar with, so I ignored it. It wasn’t the first wrong number to call me, though I was beginning to think I had been given a recycled phone number when I bought the phone. Perhaps the fact it was a burner may have had something to do with it.

About the go back to the window, the phone started ringing again. The same caller, Louis Bernard.

Curiosity got the better of me.

“Yes?” I wasn’t going to answer with my name.

“Get out of that room now.”

“Who….” It was as far as I got before the phone went dead.

The phone displayed the logo as it powered off, a sign the battery was depleted. I noticed then though I’d plugged the phone in to recharge, I’d forgotten to turn the power on.


Get out of that room now? Who could possibly know firstly who I was, and where I was living, to the point they could know I was in any sort of danger?

It took another minute of internal debate before I threw on some clothes and headed for the door.

Just in case.

As I went to open the door, someone started pounding on it, and my heart almost stopped.

“Who is it?” I yelled out. First thought; don’t open it.

“Floor warden, you need to evacuate. There’s a small fire on one of the floors below.”

“OK. Give me a minute or so and I’ll be right out.”

“Don’t take too long. Take the rear stairs on the left.”

A few seconds later I heard him pounding on the door next to mine. I waited until he’d moved on, and went out into the passage.

It was almost dark, the security lighting just above floor level giving off a strange and eerie orange glow. I thought there was a hint of smoke in the air, but that might have been the power of suggestion taking over my mind.

There were two sets of stairs down, both at the rear, one on the left and one on the right, designed to aid quick evacuation in the event of a calamity like a fire. He had told me to take the left. I deliberately ignored that and went to the right side, passing several other tenants who were going towards where they’d been told. I didn’t recognize them, but, then, I didn’t try to find out who my fellow tenants were.

A quick look back up the passage, noting everyone heading to the left side stairs, I ducked into the right stairwell and stopped for a moment. Was that smoke I could smell. From above I could hear a door slam shut, and voices. Above me, people had entered the stairwell and were coming down.

I started heading down myself.

I was on the 39th floor, and it was going to be a long way down. In a recent fire drill, the building had been evacuated from the top floor down, and it proceeded in an orderly manner. The idea was that starting at the top, there would not be a logjam if the lower floors were spilling into the stairwell and creating a bottleneck. Were those above stragglers?

I descended ten floors and still hadn’t run into anyone, but the smell of smoke was stronger. I stopped for a moment and listened for those who had been above me. Nothing. Not a sound. Surely there had to be someone above me, coming down.

A door slammed, but I couldn’t tell if it was above or below.

Once again, I descended, one floor, two, three, five, all the way down to ten. The smoke was thicker here, and I could see a cloud on the other side of the door leading out of the stairwell into the passage. The door was slightly ajar, odd, I thought, for what was supposed to be a fire door. I could see smoke being sucked into the fire escape through the door opening.

Then I saw several firemen running past, axes in hand. Was the fire on the tenth floor?

Another door slammed shut, and then above me, I could hear voices. Or were they below? I couldn’t tell. My eyes were starting to tear up from the smoke, and it was getting thicker.

I headed down.

I reached the ground floor and tried to open the door leading out of the fire escape. It wouldn’t open. A dozen other people came down the stairs and stopped when they saw me.

One asked, “Can we get out here?”

I tried the door again with the same result. “No. It seems to be jammed.”

Several of the people rushed past me, going down further, yelling out, “there should be a fire door leading out into the underground garage.”

Then, after another door slamming shut, silence. Another person said, “they must have found a way out,” and started running down the stairs, the others following. For some odd reason I couldn’t explain, I didn’t follow, a mental note popping up in my head telling me that there was only an exit into the carport from the other stairs, on this side, the exit led out onto an alley at the back of the building.

If the door would open. It should push outwards, and there should also be a bar on it, so when pushed, it allowed the door to open.

The smoke was worse now, and I could barely see, or breathe, overcome with a coughing fit. I banged on the door, yelling out that I was stuck in the stairwell, but there was no reply, nor could I hear movement on the other side of the door.

Just as I started to lose consciousness, I thought I could hear a banging sound on the door, then a minute later what seemed like wood splintering. A few seconds after that I saw a large black object hovering over me, then nothing.

It was the culmination of a bad night, a bad day, and another bad night. Was it karma trying to tell me something?

When I woke, I was in a hospital, a room to myself which seemed strange since my insurance didn’t really cover such luxuries. I looked around the room and stopped when I reached the window and the person who was standing in front of it, looking out.

“Who are you?” I asked, and realized the moment the words came out, they made me sound angry.

“No one of particular importance. I came to see if you were alright. You were very lucky by the way. Had you not stayed by that door you would have died like all the rest.”

Good to know, but not so good for the others. Did he know that the fire door was jammed? I told him what happened.

“Someone suspected that might be the case which is why you were told to take the other stairs. Why did you not do as you were told?”

“Why did the others also ignore the advice.” It was not a question I would deign to answer.

They didn’t know any better, but you did, and it begs the question, why did you take those stairs.”

Persistent, and beginning to bother me. He sounded like someone else I once knew in another lifetime, one who never asked a question unless he knew the answer.

The man still hadn’t turned around to show me his face, and it was not likely I’d be getting out of bed very soon.

“You tell me?”

He turned slightly and I could see his reflection in the window. I thought, for a moment, that was a familiar face. But I couldn’t remember it from where.

“The simple truth, you suspected the fire was lit to flush you out of the building and you thought taking those stairs would keep you away from trouble. We both know you’ve been hiding here.”

Then he did turn. Hiding, yes. A spot of trouble a year or so before had made leaving Florida a necessity, and I’d only just begun to believe I was finally safe.

I was not.

They had found me.

And it only took a few seconds, to pull the silenced gun out of his coat pocket, point it directly at me, and pull the trigger.

Two stabbing pains in the chest, and for a moment it was as if nothing happened, and then, all of a sudden, I couldn’t breathe.

The last thing I saw and heard, several rounds from at least two guns, voices yelling out on the passage, and people running.

As I lay dying, my last thought was, it had been a good run, but no one can run forever.

© Charles Heath 2021