In a word: Blank

Yes, I’m drawing a blank, which means I have no idea

It seems that I do this a lot these days, perhaps one of the perils of being a writer

But…

Using blank in a story doesn’t necessarily convey the antagonist is clueless, more likely he or she just used one in a gun, put there by a person who didn’t want to get shot.

No, still drawing a blank on this one.

A blank space means there’s nothing in it, and you see a lot of these in crosswords and sudoku, even when the user has been toiling for hours

I’m thinking anyone who met me might misinterpret my blank expression, well, it’s not too expressive in the first place

Perhaps before the coin becomes a coin; it is a piece of blank metal to begin with.  How good would it be to get a one-sided coin, that’d be worth a lot?

And the very worst description of blank; having a blank piece of paper in front of you, and you really are drawing a blank!

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to write a war story – Episode 16

For a story that was conceived during those long boring hours flying in a steel cocoon, striving to keep away the thoughts that the plane and everyone in it could just simply disappear as planes have in the past, it has come a long way.

Whilst I have always had a fascination in what happened during the second world war, not the battles or fighting, but in the more obscure events that took place, I decided to pen my own little sidebar to what was a long and bitter war.

And, so, it continues…

 

The message I sent to Forster, in London, was short and to the point,

‘Castle in hands of Germans led by Thompson, others, and a further 12 soldiers parachuted in.  Defectors, our original soldiers? and villagers held captive in dungeons.  Resistance limited to five plus self.  Available resources cannot retake castle and will have difficulty in intercepting incoming package.  Suggestions?’

Marina read it and added her name before it was sent.  Now, all we could do was wait for a reply, though I was not sure what Forster would make of my request for suggestions.  I was supposed to make decisions in the field, but that was when we had a full complement of resistance fighters.  What I’d discovered was the worst-case scenario, and everyone in London was hoping that would not be the case.

I wondered what happened to the two men who had been following me, hoping I would lead them to what were now the remaining resistance members.

“Did you see the two men from the castle that had been following me?  I told the two who had captured me, a man and a woman, though the man emphatically denied he worked for the resistance, about them before the woman shot me with a tranquilizer gun.”

Martina looked puzzled.  It was obvious the two hadn’t mentioned anything about my situation to her.

“That did not come up in the debriefing.  The man is, in fact, a farmer, Leonardo, who doesn’t advertise his involvement, and only works with us if we need him.  Chiara tends to shoot first and ask questions later.  You were lucky her gun wasn’t loaded with bullets.  What is this story of yours, then?”

“One of the guards released me from my cell, and then set me free with the intention of following, not too close, to see if I led them to you.  I was hiding from them when they passed by, shortly before you people turned up.  They would have had to see them if they came from the village.”

The implications of what I just said only dawned on me after I said it.

“That might mean…” I said.

She put her hand up, not wanting me to continue.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but I will have to talk to them.  If anything, they would have avoided them or ignored them.  We don’t use that track from the village to the castle for the simple reason we might run into any of them.  Whether they were originally our allies, or not, we never trusted them.”

“Did they bring me here?”

“No.  We have a separate meeting point for intercepts like yourself and the defectors.  Then, if we think it’s safe to do so, we bring them here.  Only three of us know about this place, and two of us are here now.”

“The third?”

“You’ll meet him later when he brings some food and wine.  His name is Carlo.  He used to be a gardener at the castle, and his mother was the cook.  The Germans killed her the first time they were here, and now he hates Germans.”

Good for us, very bad for anyone at the castle, particularly if they are German.

“Pity we didn’t know about that earlier so we could organise a trap for them  We could do with two fewer adversaries, and quite possibly we might get some information out of them.  They might be still in the village.”

She stood, and put on her coat, and put a gun in the coat pocket where she could easily reach it.  “I’m going to have a word with Chiara, and warn Carlo that you’re here.  He’s a little trigger happy too.  Nothing much is going to happen until we hear back from the Colonel.  I suggest you get some rest, we have a few long days ahead.”

Carlo was a surprise.  Six foot ten, over 250 pounds, and carrying a sten gun over his shoulder, not a man to become an enemy of.  He came into the room without warning, and it was clear he was expecting to see me, and equally that I might be the enemy.

It was clear that he knew how to use the weapon, and had it ready in case he had to use it.

“You this Anderson character?”

He was more English than Italian, but could certainly pass for an Italian.

“I am.”

“From up yon castle?”

“Escaped?”

“How?”

“The lower level, where there are a few storerooms turned into cells.  The passage ran alongside the outer wall to a room that had a door to the outside.  Not one you’d easily pick.”

“Neat the communications room?”

“Probably above there.”

“You know the castle?”

“A little.  I used to be an archaeologist before this war came along, and had been to the castle before the war.  I’m familiar with the above-ground parts, but not so much below.  You were, I was told, a gardener?”

“Once.”

“Then you’d know your way around?”

“Possibly.  Why?”

“Because at some point we’re going to have to retake the place, and it would be good to have someone who knows their way around.  At least, better than I do.”

“Taking prisoners?”

“No.    We will be assuming anyone there whose not a prisoner is hostile.”

“Good.  Count me in.”

He dropped a basket he’d brought with him on the table in the corner.  “Dinner.”  Marina will be back shortly.

“You’re not staying?”

“Guard duty.  So you can eat in peace.”

With that, he was gone.  A large man, but a very quiet one.  I didn’t hear him arrive, and it was very nearly the same when he left.  A useful man in a fight indeed.

 

© Charles Heath 2019

Searching for Locations: Waitomo caves house, North Island, New Zealand

A relatively unassuming lane leads to what could be described as a grand hotel, called Waitomo Caves Hotel.

The original hotel was built in 1908, and it was later extended in 1928.  Part of it is ‘Victorian’, based on an eastern Europe mountain chalet, and part of it is ‘Art Deco’, the concrete wing, and a feature, if it could be called that, is none of the four corners are the same.

Views from the balcony show part of the surrounding gardens
 

and the town of Waitomo in the distance.
 

In gloomy weather, it does look rather spooky, and I suspect there may be a ghost or two lurking somewhere in the buildings.
 

 
But…
 

This a a very interesting, and the words of one of my younger grand daughters, a very creepy place. It would make an excellent base for paranormal activity, and there could very well be ghosts walking the corridors of this hotel.

It has the long darkish passageways that lead in all directions and to almost hidden rooms, a creepy nighttime aspect, and the creaky woodwork.

I know when we were exploring, it was easy to lose your bearings, if not get lost, trying to find certain places, and once found, hard to find your way back.

All in all, it was one of the best stays in a very old place going through the throes of modernisation.

And looking at it from the outside at night, I’ll leave you with that thought…

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 50

A discussion with the Princess

I had the Princess put in one of the VIP guests’ rooms, quarters that were about four times the size of a junior officer’s room.

It was self-sufficient.

She had asked for an assistant which by her tone told me she really wanted a servant, a request I turned down because in our culture we did not believe in having servants.  We had long since removed subservience, though pockets of it still existed, labelled as something more palatable.

Instead, I assigned one of the medical staff as an assistant with strict instructions that firstly she was not there to take orders, secondly, she didn’t have to do anything she didn’t want to and thirdly to observe, and by any means possible within reason, find out more about their physiology and thought processes.

I called ahead of the visit to ensure it was convenient.  We had spoken briefly, but I had told her I would need to speak more comprehensively at a later time.  Like the other alien, she had a considerable comprehension of us and our language.

It just reinforced how insignificant we were in the universe, contrary to a lot of thinking back home who believed we were the centre of that same universe.

It was going to be a jolt to a lot of people back yo to realise we were not a superior race of beings.

Nurse Jolene Richardson was just leaving when I arrived at the door. 

“Everything going alright,” I asked.

“As well as it can.  It’s still quite difficult to wrap my head around the fact there are other people, other than us, though I have to say I never believed we were the only people in the universe.”

“I’m not sure what I believed, but that’s what we’re out here for.  You are one of the privileged few.  So far.  Done for now?”

“Time for a break.  She is very polite, but I get the impression she is lost.  If I was to make a guess, going home might be more stressful due to how long she had been away.  She wouldn’t tell me, but I suspect there might be some difficulties.”

“Thanks.”

Jolene continued on her way and I stepped into the room and the door closed behind me.

The princess was on the far side of the room, sitting comfortably on a settee, now dressed in a borrowed uniform, reading from a computer tablet.  Ancient technology to them perhaps.

“Captain.”  I waited until she looked up.

“Princess.”

“I’d rather you called me Elizabeth.  It’s not my real name, but it is an earth representation of it. Please sit.”  She waved at a chair opposite her, and I sat.  “You have questions?”

“I have an interest in where we are going, and what I might find there.  So far, we’ve met with hostility, but that, I fear, was due to some of my fellow humans doing the wrong thing, and, to a certain extent, our own lack of knowledge of local customs and protocols.  I hope to avoid that when we get to your home world.  As with the person we dealt with on the other world, you seem to know a little about us.”

“We know a lot about every world within our sphere of space travel simply because we have to.  Not all species are peaceful.  Your people, for instance, have spent centuries going to war with each other, and even now, still cannot put a combined mission together for a common cause.  That does not speak highly of your people.”

“We’ve come a long way in the last 50 years, but, as you say, not quite far enough. This mission’s parameters are to present a united front of many different people from our world.  The other ship belongs to a more avaricious group whose ideals are not the same as ours.  Unfortunately, I suspect these same traits are in your own people too.”

“We have, to use a word of yours, factions too.  We are not immune to internal struggles for leadership, and division of wealth, no matter how enlightened we become.”

And that might mean they have a little human in them.  In fact, I had always suspected that the human genome would be present in other galaxies like this, even if the people looked vastly different to us. 

In talking to the Astro physicists and anthropologists some of whom we had on board, they quite literally couldn’t predict what we might find, but the notion some of the people would be like us had been discussed.

So had the subject of robotics and the fact we might find very lifelike robots or androids.  In any case, it seemed we were predicting that the lifeforms would be far more advanced than us, and at no time have we considered they would be more primitive.

“In that, I guess we are not unlike.  But one question I have, are you like the others, a consciousness in a manufactured body?”

“I am not.  But we have developed a means of preserving our outer shells.  For instance, I am roughly 280 of your earth years old, though, in my own world, I am very young.  Our elders are roughly 1,000 of your earth years, and some of whom have transferred their consciousness mind to a more sustainable body.”

“How did you end up on the planet we rescued you from?”

“Hundreds of your years ago we were at war, not only with M but half a dozen others.  I was on a communications and transit outpost with a dozen other families when an enemy ship came, killed all the adult people and kidnapped me and twenty other children, taking us back to their world to be sold.  I have been gone a long time and I’m unsure if anyone related to me will still be very alive.”

“You see a princess.”

“A long time ago.  I went home once and it was a place I didn’t recognise.  My world had Bern conquered several times over time, and very few of my people were still alive then.  I suspect there are fewer now.”

“Then this will hardly be much of a homecoming for you.”

“But I will be home, such as it is.  I might have to beg your indulgence for a short time until I get settled.  You might also take the opportunity to talk to other new people.”

Well, I wasn’t thinking of dumping her and running, but I had to wonder if the current leadership might be equally hostile to us as the others. 

“I hope so.  I can see you’re tired.  We’ll pick this up later.”

“As you wish.”

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

An excerpt from “Strangers We’ve Become” – Coming Soon

I wandered back to my villa.

It was in darkness.  I was sure I had left several lights on, especially over the door so I could see to unlock it.

I looked up and saw the globe was broken.

Instant alert.

I went to the first hiding spot for the gun, and it wasn’t there.  I went to the backup and it wasn’t there either.  Someone had found my carefully hidden stash of weapons and removed them.

Who?

There were four hiding spots and all were empty.  Someone had removed the weapons.  That could only mean one possibility.

I had a visitor, not necessarily here for a social call.

But, of course, being the well-trained agent I’d once been and not one to be caught unawares, I crossed over to my neighbor and relieved him of a weapon that, if found, would require a lot of explaining.

Suitably armed, it was time to return the surprise.

There were three entrances to the villa, the front door, the back door, and a rather strange escape hatch.  One of the more interesting attractions of the villa I’d rented was its heritage.  It was built in the late 1700s, by a man who was, by all accounts, a thief.  It had a hidden underground room which had been in the past a vault but was now a wine cellar, and it had an escape hatch by which the man could come and go undetected, particularly if there was a mob outside the door baying for his blood.

It now gave me the means to enter the villa without my visitors being alerted, unless, of course, they were near the vicinity of the doorway inside the villa, but that possibility was unlikely.  It was not where anyone could anticipate or expect a doorway to be.

The secret entrance was at the rear of the villa behind a large copse, two camouflaged wooden doors built into the ground.  I move aside some of the branches that covered them and lifted one side.  After I’d discovered the doors and rusty hinges, I’d oiled and cleaned them, and cleared the passageway of cobwebs and fallen rocks.  It had a mildew smell, but nothing would get rid of that.  I’d left torches at either end so I could see.

I closed the door after me, and went quietly down the steps, enveloped in darkness till I switched on the torch.  I traversed the short passage which turned ninety degrees about halfway to the door at the other end.  I carried the key to this door on the keyring, found it and opened the door.  It too had been oiled and swung open soundlessly.

I stepped in the darkness and closed the door.

I was on the lower level under the kitchen, now the wine cellar, the ‘door’ doubling as a set of shelves which had very little on them, less to fall and alert anyone in the villa.

Silence, an eerie silence.

I took the steps up to the kitchen, stopping when my head was level with the floor, checking to see if anyone was waiting.  There wasn’t.  It seemed to me to be an unlikely spot for an ambush.

I’d already considered the possibility of someone coming after me, especially because it had been Bespalov I’d killed, and I was sure he had friends, all equally as mad as he was.  Equally, I’d also considered it nigh on impossible for anyone to find out it was me who killed him because the only people who knew that were Prendergast, Alisha, a few others in the Department, and Susan.

That raised the question of who told them where I was.

If I was the man I used to be, my first suspect would be Susan.  The departure this morning, and now this was too coincidental.  But I was not that man.

Or was I?

I reached the start of the passageway that led from the kitchen to the front door and peered into the semi-darkness.  My eyes had got used to the dark, and it was no longer an inky void.  Fragments of light leaked in around the door from outside and through the edge of the window curtains where they didn’t fit properly.  A bone of contention upstairs in the morning, when first light shone and invariably woke me up hours before I wanted to.

Still nothing.

I took a moment to consider how I would approach the visitor’s job.  I would get a plan of the villa in my head, all entrances, where a target could be led to or attacked where there would be no escape.

Coming in the front door.  If I was not expecting anything, I’d just open the door and walk-in.  One shot would be all that was required.

Contract complete.

I sidled quietly up the passage staying close to the wall, edging closer to the front door.  There was an alcove where the shooter could be waiting.  It was an ideal spot to wait.

Crunch.

I stepped on some nutshells.

Not my nutshells.

I felt it before I heard it.  The bullet with my name on it.

And how the shooter missed, from point-blank range, and hit me in the arm, I had no idea.  I fired off two shots before a second shot from the shooter went wide and hit the door with a loud thwack.

I saw a red dot wavering as it honed in on me and I fell to the floor, stretching out, looking up where the origin of the light was coming and pulled the trigger three times, evenly spaced, and a second later I heard the sound of a body falling down the stairs and stopping at the bottom, not very far from me.

Two assassins.

I’d not expected that.

The assassin by the door was dead, a lucky shot on my part.  The second was still breathing.

I checked the body for any weapons and found a second gun and two knives.  Armed to the teeth!

I pulled off the balaclava; a man, early thirties, definitely Italian.  I was expecting a Russian.

I slapped his face, waking him up.  Blood was leaking from several slashes on his face when his head had hit the stairs on the way down.  The awkward angle of his arms and legs told me there were broken bones, probably a lot worse internally.  He was not long for this earth.

“Who employed you?”

He looked at me with dead eyes, a pursed mouth, perhaps a smile.  “Not today my friend.  You have made a very bad enemy.”  He coughed and blood poured out of his mouth.  “There will be more …”

Friends of Bespalov, no doubt.

I would have to leave.  Two unexplainable bodies, I’d have a hard time explaining my way out of this mess.  I dragged the two bodies into the lounge, clearing the passageway just in case someone had heard anything.

Just in case anyone was outside at the time, I sat in the dark, at the foot of the stairs, and tried to breathe normally.  I was trying not to connect dots that led back to Susan, but the coincidence was worrying me.

A half-hour passed and I hadn’t moved.  Deep in thought, I’d forgotten about being shot, unaware that blood was running down my arm and dripping onto the floor.

Until I heard a knock on my front door.

Two thoughts, it was either the police, alerted by the neighbors, or it was the second wave, though why would they be knocking on the door?

I stood, and immediately felt a stabbing pain in my arm.  I took out a handkerchief and turned it into a makeshift tourniquet, then wrapped a kitchen towel around the wound.

If it was the police, this was going to be a difficult situation.  Holding the gun behind my back, I opened the door a fraction and looked out.

No police, just Maria.  I hoped she was not part of the next ‘wave’.

“You left your phone behind on the table.  I thought you might be looking for it.”  She held it out in front of her.

When I didn’t open the door any further, she looked at me quizzically, and then asked, “Is anything wrong?”

I was going to thank her for returning the phone, but I heard her breathe in sharply, and add, breathlessly, “You’re bleeding.”

I looked at my arm and realized it was visible through the door, and not only that, the towel was soaked in blood.

“You need to go away now.”

Should I tell her the truth?  It was probably too late, and if she was any sort of law-abiding citizen she would go straight to the police.

She showed no signs of leaving, just an unnerving curiosity.  “What happened?”

I ran through several explanations, but none seemed plausible.  I went with the truth.  “My past caught up with me.”

“You need someone to fix that before you pass out from blood loss.  It doesn’t look good.”

“I can fix it.  You need to leave.  It is not safe to be here with me.”

The pain in my arm was not getting any better, and the blood was starting to run down my arm again as the tourniquet loosened.  She was right, I needed it fixed sooner rather than later.

I opened the door and let her in.  It was a mistake, a huge mistake, and I would have to deal with the consequences.  Once inside, she turned on the light and saw the pool of blood just inside the door and the trail leading to the lounge.  She followed the trail and turned into the lounge, turned on the light, and no doubt saw the two dead men.

I expected her to scream.  She didn’t.

She gave me a good hard look, perhaps trying to see if I was dangerous.  Killing people wasn’t something you looked the other way about.  She would have to go to the police.

“What happened here?”

“I came home from the cafe and two men were waiting for me.  I used to work for the Government, but no longer.  I suspect these men were here to repay a debt.  I was lucky.”

“Not so much, looking at your arm.”

She came closer and inspected it.

“Sit down.”

She found another towel and wrapped it around the wound, retightening the tourniquet to stem the bleeding.

“Do you have medical supplies?”

I nodded.  “Upstairs.”  I had a medical kit, and on the road, I usually made my own running repairs.  Another old habit I hadn’t quite shaken off yet.

She went upstairs, rummaged, and then came back.  I wondered briefly what she would think of the unmade bed though I was not sure why it might interest her.

She helped me remove my shirt, and then cleaned the wound.  Fortunately, she didn’t have to remove a bullet.  It was a clean wound but it would require stitches.

When she’d finished she said, “Your friend said one day this might happen.”

No prizes for guessing who that friend was, and it didn’t please me that she had involved Maria.

“Alisha?”

“She didn’t tell me her name, but I think she cares a lot about you.  She said trouble has a way of finding you, gave me a phone and said to call her if something like this happened.”

“That was wrong of her to do that.”

“Perhaps, perhaps not.  Will you call her?”

“Yes.  I can’t stay here now.  You should go now.  Hopefully, by the time I leave in the morning, no one will ever know what happened here, especially you.”

She smiled.  “As you say, I was never here.”

© Charles Heath 2018-2022

strangerscover9

My grandmother’s house fuelled many a story

There is this thing called the march of progress.

It can be good, or it can be bad.

I remember, a long time ago now, the many holidays I spent at my grandmother’s place in the ‘country’.  Back then it was.

Now it is just another suburb of Melbourne.

I remember the drive, and it used to take about half an hour, perhaps longer, and as we traveled, it was mostly the countryside we saw.  Little towns like Beaconsfield, Officer, Berwick, oases in the middle of farming land.

The last time I went for that same drive, there was endless houses.

My grandmother’s house was very large, and the land it was built on, extensive.  There used to be gardens, several garages, a number of old cars, and a huge workshop.

My brother and I used to spend our Christmases exploring, and on a particular one, found some tools and decided to recover some of it.

We found a huge fountain buried beneath the overgrowth, the centerpiece of what must have been a remarkable display.

It was like we had our own secret garden.

There was also a fernery, also overgrown.

Now, sadly, all of it is gone, and in its place a multilane highway that follows an alternate coastal route between Melbourne and Sydney.

All I have left is the memories of a time that will never return.

And a pile of ideas for stories…

You learn something new every day (1)

And it’s not necessarily something that might be good. To be honest, I didn’t know what to think, but in a strange sort of way it put a few things into perspective.

My brother and I have been delving into the family history, or at least my brother is throwing everything at it, and I’m along for the ride.

I did have a trove of stuff that we found when cleaning out my parent’s house when they moved into aged care, and at the time I didn’t think much of it. It was more about getting them settled than figuring out what was kept.

Now, four or so years later, and having finally received an interim output of the family tree, it’s not so much the forebears that interested me, as it was my parents.

It seems that our looking at our immediate family’s potted lives is like walking through a minefield, riddled with contradictions, rumors, and anecdotal evidence that doesn’t, for the moment, have any hard evidence to back it up. Or at least some have, but that’s not the interesting part.

So, picture this. The extent of my knowledge of my immediate family was that my father is Australian, his mother English, and I’m a second-generation Australian with an English grandparent. It doesn’t sound much, but not so long ago I could have applied for and got an English passport and had dual nationality. Unfortunately, that cannot happen anymore, you have to be one or the other.

My mother’s mother was of English descent and her husband of German descent. It was understood that my grandfather on this side died not long after I was born, though for a long time we were never told how. Only recently it came to light that he had committed suicide, and my brother has a copy of the suicide note he wrote. Morbid, eh? It turns out he thought he had cancer, but didn’t and mistakenly ended his life thinking he might have been a burden on my grandmother.

But now we started digging, getting dates of birth, easy, dates of death, easy, marriage certificates, and parents’ names for this limited dip into history, relatively simple.

But the story, the real aspects of genealogy, is where they went to school, their first job, what the did in the war, that fascinating the story of their lives at different times, that’s where I’m more interested. My brother has the facts, I want to give them a story entwining those facts.

Something that adds some flesh to the story is letters.

Another recent addition to the pile of family documents are the letters between my mother and father before they were married, and the fact my mother had another boyfriend, something we never knew until the great clean up. I have those letters, or some of them too.

Those letters, from him, unfortunately, we don’t have hers, are fascinating, as are those from my father. There is no indication of why there was a breakup with the first boyfriend, but I did learn that my father had gone to an introduction agent by the name of Mrs. J Phillips who gave him her name. What factors had led him down this path?

It was, to me, very Dolly Levi-ish.

I discovered my father worked as a projectionist at the Snowy River hydro-electric project after the war., around 1948. He had spoken of showing pictures at the Athenaeum Theatre in Flinders Street, and the King’s Theatre in Melbourne, but not exactly when, which accounted for his amazing knowledge of Hollywood movie stars. It was, however, as much as he had shared for a long time.

I also discovered that he was in Perth, Western Australia immediately after the war, and then went overseas to England by ship 13th August 1947, arriving in London on 12th September, and stayed at Middlesex with relatives.

Ok, now it gets a little weird because when in Bedfordshire he became engaged to an English girl that he had (apparently) known for 10 years. How this came to pass is still a mystery awaiting an answer. The wedding was supposed to be on 21st December 1947 but never happened, because the marriage was forbidden by her parents because they did not want their daughter to move to Australia, and equally forbidden by his parents because she was Catholic.

Yes. Religion was a breaking point in those days because he was a protestant. He returned, perhaps heartbroken, a year after he left, in April 1948.

I found that for a period of two years there would be enough speculative material to fuel a very lively account of their lives, and particularly his.

My mother, by the way, spent the war years attending Dandenong High School, a steam train ride down from Pakenham to Dandenong. After that, she gained employment in Melbourne, and spend the weekdays at a Ladies Boarding House called Chalmers Hall, in Parliament Place, and going home to Pakenham on the weekends. From a note or two, it seems she was something of a ‘wild’ child who craved doing something with her evenings other than ‘staying in’, with references to her going out with her friends.

My father confessed that he was the family’s black sheep, that he didn’t get along with any of the family, and which was why he was never home and always traveling. He wrote, in one letter of October 1948, that when he got into an argument he got mad and walked out on them, and came back when calm had returned. I assume that meant it might take days, weeks, or even months for the dist to settle.

There were disputes with my father with both his brothers and his parents over marrying my mother, and there were problems between my mother and her parents, to the extent they might not attend the wedding. For a few months of tense silence, there might not have been a wedding at all, but eventually, this happened at Trinity Church, Camberwell, on the 28th of June, 1949.

Wow! It shows that illusions of what might have been their happy day turning out to be moments of high dudgeon. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall.

I still have no idea what split her and the original boyfriend, a man she’d known since she was 14, and was from her hometown area, Pakenham. It might have been something she said because there are indications on one of two draft letters that she was prone to speaking her mind, and had a temper which would not have helped in using discretion. I’m guessing a few years of war would make a man lose interest in a high minded, and perhaps a sharp-tongued woman. I suspect we’ll never know.

She is now 93 and has Alzheimer’s and dementia, and unlikely to remember back then.

Similarly, my father is 97 and I doubt sitting down with him would elicit much on the way of a sensible discussion. He was always irascible at best and oddly suffers from PTSD from his war service if that’s still possible. Over the years he was never prone to sharing his past life, except in snippets, and that, some of it was about the war. I guess war did terrible things to the participants back them

And, as for his war service, we have the physical documentation of where and when, but only a potted history of his own account of his service. But even that is a story and a half in itself.

More on that later.

Skeletons in the closet, and doppelgangers

A story called “Mistaken Identity”

How many of us have skeletons in the closet that we know nothing about? The skeletons we know about generally stay there, but those we do not, well, they have a habit of coming out of left field when we least expect it.

In this case, when you see your photo on a TV screen with the accompanying text that says you are wanted by every law enforcement agency in Europe, you’re in a state of shock, only to be compounded by those same police, armed and menacing, kicking the door down.

I’d been thinking about this premise for a while after I discovered my mother had a boyfriend before she married my father, a boyfriend who was, by all accounts, the man who was the love of her life.

Then, in terms of coming up with an idea for a story, what if she had a child by him that we didn’t know about, which might mean I had a half brother or sister I knew nothing about. It’s not an uncommon occurrence from what I’ve been researching.

There are many ways of putting a spin on this story.

Then, in the back of my mind, I remembered a story an acquaintance at work was once telling us over morning tea, that a friend of a friend had a mother who had a twin sister and that each of the sisters had a son by the same father, without each knowing of the father’s actions, both growing up without the other having any knowledge of their half brother, only to meet by accident on the other side of the world.

It was an encounter that in the scheme of things might never have happened, and each would have remained oblivious of the other.

For one sister, the relationship was over before she discovered she was pregnant, and therefore had not told the man he was a father. It was no surprise the relationship foundered when she discovered he was also having a relationship with her sister, a discovery that caused her to cut all ties with both of them and never speak to either from that day.

It’s a story with more twists and turns than a country lane!

And a great idea for a story.

That story is called ‘Mistaken Identity’.

Read an extract tomorrow.

A photograph from the inspirational bin – 10

It was a relic from the past, put back together by a dedicated group of volunteers who had not wanted the last vestiges of the past to disappear.

Train enthusiasts, the called themselves.

They’d put together a steam locomotive, five carriages, a restaurant car, and the conductor’s car. The original train might have been twice to three times as long, but these days, the tourist market rarely filled the train.

I was one of a group who made it their mission to visit and rate every vintage train, not only in this country, but all over the world. It was a sad state of affairs when I first began, with locomotives and carriages dropping out of the system due to lack of funds, but more disheartening, the lack of government assistance in keeping it’s heritage alive.

It seemed money was short, and there were better things to spend it on, like two brand new 737-800 jets just to ferry the prime minister and government officials around. Just think of what that quarter of a billion dollars could have bought in heritage.

But it is what it is.

What I had before me was one of the most recent restorations to check out, and on first glance, it was remarkable just how lifelike and true to age it was.

Of course, I was of an age that could remember the old railway carriages, what were called red rattlers because of the ill fitting windows that went up and down, allow fresh air, or in days gone by, smoke from the locomotive hauling the train. I had not travelled during the last glorious years of steam, but the carriages had lived on briefly before the advent of the sterile aluminum tin cans with uncomfortably hard seats.

These carriages were built for comfort, and my first experience had been a five hour trip from Melbourne to Wangaratta, in Victoria, on my way to Mt Buffalo Chalet, a guesthouse owned by the Railways.

That too had been a remarkable old chalet style guest house with a room and all the dining included. I always left after the week having put on weight. Breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner, every day, and high tea on Sunday.

But this carriage, the polished wood that had shellac rather than varnish, highlighting the timber’s grain, the leather seats with generous padding, the curved ceilings with hanging lights, windows the could be opened and closed, allowing fresh air to circulate.

There was also a carriage with the passageway, and five or six separate compartments, each sitting six passengers. I remembered these well, having quite often ridden in one to work for some years when the country trains still ran.

It was always remarkable how a sight or a scent could trigger such memories.

For this carriage on this train, it used to ply the Gympie to Brooloo branch line from about 1915 onwards.

That was the history. It only went as far as Amamoor these days, it was still long enough to capture the sensation of riding the rails back in what is always referred to as the good old days, even if they were not.

Now for the ride….

© Charles Heath 2021

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.”

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.”
Why?
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.
Nothing.
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.
“Clearly?”
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.