Unless otherwise indicated, all names have NOT been changed in order to protect the guilty or the innocent. However, should Interpol come calling, then all stated names and places were a made up story just for the purpose of spreading goodwill throughout the Kingdom of Medium.
Without further ado –
Once upon a time in a kingdom far, far, FAHR away (must be read in your best Shrek or Donkey voice), there lived a brother and a sister. This particular fiefdom was so far away that it required travel by boat, yellow submarine, or airplane to get to. In order to protect my two much younger siblings (um, I mean two of the characters in this story), I will not tell you that the country lies to the east of Holland and France, nor will I tell you that it was a country that up until a couple of years before this event took place was actually two different countries.
For those who have a very poor grasp of geography and a lack of knowledge of world events, I will give you one small hint with the initials of the country W.est G.ermany, but don’t ask for any more hints because I vill not giff you eny more, Mein Fraulein und Mein Herr.
Across the waves far to the west there lived a couple, rather youngish at the time, who decided that it was time to visit sundry and sorted (not sordid) relatives living in this beautiful country. Before you could say Wienerschnitzel (bless you too), they climbed aboard a plane (faster than yellow submarines)and headed for a long trip to the old country.
Shortly after their arrival, it was determined by the youngish couple that this would be a great time to leave the kinder-noodles (roughly translates as offspring) with und grand-spoil-em-rotten-peoplen (equivalent to grandparents) and embark on a grand tour. The Black Forest in Bavaria was calling with all of its beauty, its luscious landscapes, and incredible fairy-tale like castles. By the way, it was rather disappointing to find out that Black Forest Gateaux does not come from Bavaria, but we saw lots of chateauxs.
Getting up early, we gave an extra helping of Wheaties to the 4 squirrels that resided under the hood of the French rental car. NEVER get a French rental car. They are slow as snails, even the ones that are getting ready to be eaten.
Four hours later, we arrived at our first destination of Neuschwanstein Castle and enjoyed an incredible tour of the castle that Walt Disney modeled his fairy-tale castle in all the stories with happy endings.
Feeling rather adventurous and only being about 30–40 minutes from the Austrian border, we decided that we would do a quick trip into Austria, have a late lunch while trying to determine if the hills really were alive with the sound of music. A quick confab between youngish couple and my two unnamed siblings (Sharon and Michael), we determined that as we had ALL brought our passports, that it would be an easy enough trip.
To be fair to one of my siblings, I will add that I actually am a dual citizen. I always carry two passports (one US and one British).
A quick car ride from the castle (but not as quick as it would have been in say a BMW or even a Volkswagen, we arrived at the border of the country we were visiting and Austria. Pulling up to the border guards who looked very menacing with their peashooters strapped to their shoulders, I greeted them in my best Deutsch accent.
With deepening scowls and obviously unimpressed with my ability to speak his language fluently, the soldier asked me in English to produce my passports. In the interest of good cross-border relationships, I responded in English as well.
Handing him BOTH of my passports, my wife’s passport, and my youngest brother’s passport, I reached back to get my youngest sister’s passport. She whispers back that she does NOT have her passport after all, but she does have something like a military ID that she used to get on base for work. I whispered back for her to hand that to me and we would see if that would allow us to cross the border as we really just wanted a quick visit with the Von Trapp family. I had confidence in confidence alone as I reached back through the window to hand the guard her ID.
Imagine my surprise when he would not do more than a cursory glance at her ID, the four passports, and waved us into Austria. Ah, the hills truly were alive. The sun was out and we could even hear the Mother Superior singing to us something about climb every mountain. We were ready.
An incredible lunch followed, but slightly disappointing as neither Rolf nor Liesl were available for the day. I think my brother and sister were hoping to make their acquaintances as well, but sadly, they were also disappointed.
By this time, we were only about an hour away from the Brenner Pass. This long tunnel goes under the Alps and is one of the entrances into the land of ravioli, spaghetti, and Bolognese sauce. Taking the tunnel is actually much easier than calling up Hannibal to hire an elephant.
Why not? With shouts of encouragement to the tired squirrels under the hood, we drove to the border of Italy. Using the same routine, because for some reason it didn’t make any sense for the driver to just hang on to the passports, we arrived at the border crossing. These soldiers looked even meaner and despite my repeated attempts to speak English with much hand and arm waving, they still not appear to understand what I was saying.
Finally, a border guard that spoke English asked for our passports. I handed him my TWO passports and my wife’s passport. My youngest brother who has a good Italian name similar to Michelangelo, but without the angel part (trust me on that one) handed me his passport. My sister still could not find hers, but dutifully handed me her military ID.
I handed her ID to the guard and was going to explain that we wanted to try the fine food, maybe ride in a Fiat down the canals of Venice, and maybe see about an Italian Job. Instead, he pushed the four passports through the window, waved us on through the military checkpoint, and went back inside his booth.
Driving from the beautiful colors of Austria, we entered the tunnel. Out the Italian side, the beautiful colored houses were drab brown, everything was dingy, and soldiers or police with sub-machine guns seemed to be standing on every corner. A couple of hours into the Italian countryside, a French car with four Americans were happily snapping pictures like good tourists.
Coming upon what looked like a decrepit and abandoned castle, we jumped out of the car and began taking pictures in the darkening gloom of evening. All of a sudden, searchlights began to click on. Scanning the darkness, they moved their way down the hillsides and were obviously getting ready to converge on the lone travelers.
A few feet away, I finally noticed a sign warning all tourists that this was a military installation and photography was NOT permitted. Now, why didn’t my brother or sister mention that to me previously? I don’t think I will ever know the answer.
Hissing through the darkness, I called to my fellow spies (um, I mean family) to get back in the car now. Just as one of the searchlights crossed and then recrossed the top of our car, I jammed the transmission into first gear and made a quick getaway that would have been the envy of James Bond.
My navigator wife was tasked with the responsibility of finding a viable escape route back to the Austrian border. After almost two hours of racing through mountain roads at breakneck speeds, I put the car through more curves than a German pretzel. It was during this time that we realized the gravity of our situation. We had now crossed not just one, but two international borders with passports good for three people — not four!
My sister was obviously concerned, even though we told her that should we get in trouble that we would appeal to the Pope to get her released, or at least send care packages through the Red Cross. For some reason, she was not amused, but I did remind her that she was actually the ONLY illegal in the car at that time.
Fortunately the massive troop buildup being orchestrated to find us was taking too long, and we pulled up safely to the Italian/Austrian border. Offering a quick prayer, we made a determination that if we managed to get back across two international borders using false pretenses that we would be forever thankful and that we would never ever criticize bad quality spaghetti noodles that don’t actually come from the town of Spah-getti in northern Italy.
Being way out in the middle of nowhere, these guards spoke no English — at all! With more fear than I ever had on top secret missions that I conducted while in Her Majesty’s Secret Service (different story for a different day), I handed FOUR passports to the guard.
It was now dark and I made sure that my sister was seated at the back of the car on the far side. Looking at each passport, the border guard came out with a flashlight and began looking at each passenger while holding the passports. Stepping back into his little hut, he picked up the phone and made a quick call with our passports in hand.
By now, my sister was sweating, but we tried to console her that Italian is not a hard language to learn and that she had always loved noodles.
Opening the window, the guard handed me the passports and said something in Italian. Unfortunately, my sister had not been spending much time on her foreign language study and could not translate, so we just sat there.
Opening the window again, he pointed several times at the car, said something in Italian, and shut the window while still speaking on the phone.
On the third time, he opened the window, yelled something in Italian, pointed at the Austrian border, and then yelled, “Go, DRIVE!”
So, we drove while he went back to ordered his nightly pizza from the local Little Caesar’s restaurant. I really hope they gave him extra cheese and anchovies because he was a real stinker.
Driving back through Austria late at night, we determined that we better not stop for the night until we were back in Germany. Sorry, for security purposes, the name of the country had to be redacted.
Arriving at the Austrian/German border, we felt coerced to use the same manipulation tactics. It was imperative that we remained calm so as not to cause any incident that might require a new nuclear proliferation treaty to be re-signed by Reagan and Gorbachev in Iceland which incidentally has no borders you can drive across thus making it a safer country to visit.
The Austrian border held no issues though and the border guard barely even looked at the FOUR passports that I handed him. From my understanding, he was later reassigned to watch over foreign visitors to the Gulags of far eastern Siberia. Thankfully, he had already enjoyed a frappe and a strudel that would have brought a smile to the face of even the Baroness Von Schrader.
Waving us through the final checkpoint, we broke into a rousing rendition of “Deutschland Uber Alles.” Despite the fact, that only my youngest brother spoke fluent German, plenty of deep guttural throat-clearings made it sound quite impressive. It would have probably brought tears to the eyes of the best choir in Berlin or Munich.
And that concludes the true, honest-to-goodness, non-fabricated, and definitely non-embellished account of how my two passports saved the day for my sister after she illegally crossed FOUR different borders on the same day. Thankfully, she still talks to me and doesn’t even have a German or Italian accent, which is kind of what I expected. After all, research does say that…oh never mind.
Auf wiedersehen and ciao!
This entry was posted in authors, Flash Stories, Humor, Uncategorized and tagged Austria, border crossings, foreign travel, Germany, humor, illegal, Italy, Secret Service, Sound of Music, spies, travel.
The path led straight to the door of the cabin that I had built with my own hands. Years in the making, the outside of the cabin was smooth while the interior was elaborate. Yet, the smoothness of the exterior hid the truth of how much work had gone into making it what it was today.
Each log was meticulous, but it had not always been that way. For that matter, neither had the interior. With not much effort, I could remember the day that I started building.
The day was dreary and snow lay all around me on the ground. My fingers numb from the cold, my heart though was warm and content. However, the feeling changed the moment I started down my path for the day. Every step became a burden on what should have been a sun-drenched journey.
The path was ordinary and plain. Each stone looked as though they had been worn smooth by those who had walked before me. Yet, as I admired the trees and flowers that graced each side of the path, I could not help but wish for a smoother walk. The look of the stones was deceiving for they were hard against the feet. If the truth were told, the stones were painful and I longed for a place to rest.
That first journey on the path was not without its dangers, but I could not see anything that would have required hesitancy on my part. Onward I walked toward my destination. I was but a few steps into the woods, when I realized that I could not return the way I had come. Vines had grown up behind me and pressed me forward. Reluctantly, I took my next steps toward the unknown.
The further I walked, the more I longed for respite. One day, the pain became unbearable and I stepped off the path into a clearing that seemed to miraculously appear. It was the right size and instinctively, I understood that it belonged to me. I am not sure how I knew that, but the growing darkness that threatened to swallow me alive forced me to make a decision. In some ways, it was made quickly, but it had actually been a long time in the making.
Grabbing my tools, I cut my first tree. My inexperience in building created an almost instant dilemma. The logs I tried to fashion were worthless. The wood was too soft and it had not been treated correctly. Every attempt to notch the logs and build a wall only frustrated me. The cold wind blew and my logs blew over with little effort. They would never serve to offer protection or warmth on the cold nights of the winter that lay ahead of me.
I would eventually learn the right way to build my cabin. In the beginning, I did not see the need to spend time building it for occasionally the sun would come up. I soaked up its warmth like a sponge in water, but the days became darker and longer and I knew I must hurry.
Before long, my building progressed at an amazing pace and the results were astounding. Regularly, I would look at my hands and ponder what they had created. My long-term goal was not to live permanently in my cabin. Yet, the more that I completed, the more I longed to remain at the end of each day.
Finally learning which trees were of the right building material, I hand-crafted every log. As each piece was moved into place, I began to consider how I should design the interior. What furniture should I construct? Should there be pictures on the walls and trinkets on the bookshelves?
Just as another winter storm began to pummel my cabin, I placed the finishing touches on the last wall. Just in time, I mused as I sat content in what my hands had built. Anybody looking from the outside would not have thought the cabin was a masterpiece, but it was to me.
Strange as it may seem, I had but two windows to look out. From my vantage point, I could watch the path in both directions. My clearing was big enough to even observe the skies for coming storms. Those who walked the path might find my cabin, but I had taken this into consideration. From a distance, you could not see my new home. Truthfully, if you were on the path that ran just outside my cabin, you would still not see it. The only way to know that it existed would be to take time to observe and examine the oddities of my clearing.
Should a person walk past, they might have noticed the light in my windows. Only by looking inside would they have even noticed where I lived. It was not a thing of beauty to anyone but me, and I loved it.
The storms raged day after day, week after week, but I remained secure and warm. Each day I would start a new fire with the kindling and logs that I had cut and stored meticulously. Looking from my windows, I began to realize that the storm would never end. Darkness descended and I was startled to the reality that I had forgotten to build a door. Or, had I?
Inside my cabin for the long winter, I could not remember each phase of my building going up. How could I have forgotten a door? The walls were firmly in place, and every day I spent that winter was spent arranging all of my belongings to the point where the cabin was comfortable.
Looking out at a nearby path, I tried to remember the walks in the sun and the warmth on my back. My memories struggled though to recall the wonder of Spring and I thought that I would never enjoy life with those who walked by me. They seemed uninterested in building their own cabins, and rarely did I see anyone that might have been interested in visiting me. Nobody seemed to want to get close to my clearing, much less my cabin, so in my cabin I remained.
As winter progressed, I still looked out my windows, but I did not care for what I saw. All that I needed was in my cabin. Sadly, I never noticed that the lights I had built were growing dim with each passing day. The fires I built no longer produced the warmth that my body needed. I grew colder and I knew my days were numbered.
My cabin had long become what I thought was a safe retreat, but I longed for more. My tools lay dull in the corner and I could no longer remember how to use my hands to build otherwise I would have tried to build a new door. I wanted somebody to come visit, but nobody would. My cabin was well-hidden, built as a way to escape the hard, rocky paths.
Lying on my bed, the storms raged around me. Closing my eyes, I slept through the night never realizing that the fire and the lights in my house had gone out. There was no fuel left for in my time spent looking out the windows, I had not seen my supplies dwindle to nothing.
When I awoke, maybe I could invite somebody over for dinner. It would not be easy for them to look through my windows for time had already brought dirt to their surfaces. If a person had walked by, they would have seen the lights flicker beckoning for somebody to come by and visit.
The long night beckoned and I accepted the call. It was not what I wanted, but I no longer had a choice. There was no escape for what I had built for the doors of opportunity had long been sealed over.
As the night grew longer, I felt sleep coming to my eyes and body. For too long, I had struggled to stay awake, but tonight would not be that night.
“Mr. & Mrs. Jones, I am afraid I have some bad news. Your son has been racked with depression for years. The authorities found a number of medicine bottles scattered throughout his home. We found a note though that you may read when you are ready.”
Harold finally spoke up, “Officer, do you know how he passed?”
“Mr. Jones, the medical examiner concluded that he seemed to give up on life. The depression that he battled simply destroyed him and he died of a broken heart.”
That night, together, the older couple sobbed as they read Joshua’s final words.
Dear Dad & Mom,
My path began like any other person. You cared for me and protected me, yet I recall the day that I was called to step out by myself. From my first day at school, I was the smallest. I was never popular no matter how hard I tried. None of the other children probably meant to be cruel, but they were. The rides on the bus were agony, and the playground was a place of torture. At first, it was not every day, but it soon became a problem. The teachers never stopped them and I was too afraid to tell you.
Each day that passed required an incredible effort to wake up and take the walk again. I longed to return to the beginning, but the clock on the wall does not permit backward movement.
One day, I found a place that I could escape. Nobody ever bothered me, and the longer I stayed in my retreat, it became easier to build the walls that now surround me. There no longer remains a door to escape, and if there is, my eyes cannot see it.
Now that I am an adult, the bullying and the depression remain. I thought that high school and college would be different, but the windows to my soul simply clouded over as each storm battered my life. It seems that there is no escape but to the cabin I built in my heart and mind.
Soon I will sleep and I will no longer fear the storms. The storms will be behind me forever. I know that this knowledge will devastate both of you, but know that this is not a personal attack on you. I just wanted somebody to find me, to hold me, to love me back to the reality that is the world around me. There is so much that I could have seen, but all I desire is to sleep.
The fire is growing dim and the lights in my windows no longer light the path to my door. If you are reading this, you will know it has been forever extinguished.
Goodbye with all my love,
Written to those who battle depression and the pain of bullying every day. You are not forgotten. Don’t give up. Allow others to see the real you in your eyes which are the windows to the soul. Welcome change and help others to see the beauty of the life cabin you have built.
Originally for Writing Prompt #23 at Warrior Writers on Medium.Com
Music never ceases.
Music never really dies.
If it did, the story of our life would have to end with it. Problems come when life seems to demand it always be played in a major chord.
Uplifting to the soul, music also has the ability to crush the heart. For those who are wise, music will be allowed to play its song no matter how it sounds. For those who fail, it will be the listener who dies.
For the love of all the music in the world, Meg knew the point of no return was in front of her. All that she had worked for was for nothing if she refused to seek the path that led past the curtain and the broken mirror.
Her hand caressed the velvet, but it was only fleeting as she made her choice. Meg’s feet had followed her heart and there was nothing her mother could have done to stop her. In the midst of the music being played, the angelic strains of the voice thrilled her beyond imagination.
The voices rose and fell in hollow shrieks as her followers failed to comprehend how she could have just disappeared. Stroking the item in her hand, she moved farther into the dark shadows of the night.
Was it really night, though?
Meg vaguely remembered leaving the light of day before transcending into the depths of the abyss. Here, along the haunted paths, Father Time no longer seemed to matter. All that mattered was the truth of what lay ahead.
Would it matter?
The beautiful girl with the golden curls cared for nothing but to embrace the darkness and make light out of the discordant strains of music that stung with its sharp embrace.
How long had she known?
The answer might trouble her on occasion, but neither the question nor the answer would ever be spoken aloud. Ever. Stumbling along with her delicate hand sliding across the fabled wall, the dampness called to her again as she strained to follow the wisp of light that bobbed up and down far ahead of her. At times, the light seemed to disappear, but Meg knew that it would be waiting.
Her followers had long ago given up, but the one she followed knew that she was coming. The voice grated through the darkness, but it was not meant for her.
“Why have you brought me here?”
Sobs punctuated each word and tore at her heart, but the time had not yet come. The music continued to play its somber tunes as both the followed and the follower danced to what was playing in their heart and head.
Meg stopped momentarily. Realizing the light had grown in its intensity, her mind failed to comprehend that the sight of the torch meant that she must face the music of her own choosing.
The outstretched arm of the one she followed was wrapped in black and her eyes struggled to adjust to the smoky gloom.
A whisper caressed the dank air and this time it was to Meg that the voice came, “Why do you follow me?”
No thread of fear tinged her reply, “I came for you!”
Bitterness threatened to envelop both speakers as she stared at him. “Do you like what you see, Meg? Does it not bring fear to your heart?”
The thought of any struggles that the future would bring were distant as she pondered the best response. He was already broken, but she was all he had left. Whether he could or would recognize what she was offering him would depend on his choice to die or to enjoy the music no opera had ever written.
The dark figure hissed his displeasure, but did not recoil as she touched his arm. “I have come to bring you what is yours.”
Lifting her hand, Meg held out the item she had carried for the last few hours. “The music you have sung may have been meant for another, but it is my heart that was captured many years ago.”
Bowing her head, Meg’s eyes filled with tears. There was no condemnation in her voice, only the regret of life’s minor chords that had been played for far too long.
“I have come for you. It is you alone that has filled my heart with the music of the night.”
Jerking his arm away from her, the man took a few steps down the long passageway. Turning back to face her, he quickly lifted his arm so the light would fall full upon his hideousness. In so doing, he knew that it was not just his scars that he was baring before the young woman. Every part of his heart was crushed beyond any recognition, yet she still faced him with wonder and care.
“I knew you were there when she said goodbye. You watched her leave with my heart. Why have you come? You know what I am.”
As the music of the night swelled to a new crescendo, Meg wrapped her arms carefully around his waist. Placing her head on his chest, she was certain that the music she heard beating would grow and become a glorious symphony.
Holding the flickering torch away from both of them, his free arm encircled her waist in return. Love’s melody would bring light to their darkened world.
Sobs broke from his parched throat again and he tried to speak. But a soft finger placed itself against his lips to keep him from speaking.
Meg whispered into his chest, “There is nothing that will keep me from loving you. You are my angel of music. In time, all I ask of you is that you learn to do the same with me.”
It would be impossible to tell how much time passed in that hallowed tunnel, but the light soon disappeared. With the dimming light fading into darkness, two tortured souls made their way to where day would never shine. Walking arm in arm, Meg dropped the long revered item into a watery grave.
She spoke again with clarity. “With me by your side, you will have no fear. You will never have need of this again.”
It may have been but a few days later, a month, or maybe years had passed. From beneath the ground, the water brought the item to the surface. Picked up by a young lad on his way back into the city, the boy paused to consider why a phantom mask would be found in such a place.
Placing the mask on an unmarked tombstone in a nearby cemetery, the boy paused. For a moment, he thought his mind must be playing tricks on him. From beneath his feet, he was certain that he could hear beautiful music. The music rose and fell in its beauty and upon the wind, a voice echoed through the gloom of the coming night.
“Meg, my angel of music, I will always love you!”
(With apologies to Andrew Lloyd Webber)
This entry was posted in authors, fiction, Flash Stories, Uncategorized and tagged Andrew Lloyd Webber, beautiful music, fiction, Flash Stories, major chords, music, Phantom of the Opera, problems, singing.
I had the privilege of being interviewed by Parker J Cole of “Write Stuff.” This was my first interview about my book “Heroes of Courage.” I also had the honor of being able to speak about Liberia which is still very close to my heart.
“The devil is in the details.”
Terry whispered to himself as he stared at the gathering storm clouds. He did not normally have an overactive imagination, but he was certain there was an ominous figure dancing over the town.
The mesmerizing clouds billowed dark while the wind swirled first in one direction, then a few seconds later in the other. Craning his neck, he looked up past the edge of the sun visor as several loud cracks of thunder accompanied an immediate display of lightning.
The storm was so close that there was no time to count “1…1000, 2…1000, etc.” between the lightning strikes and the thunder. They were simultaneous.
The 1972 Ford F250 was Terry’s pride and joy. It had originally belonged to his grandpa who had bought it brand new off the lot from Old Man McCormick. His grandpa had babied the truck and even now, it had less than 70,000 original miles on it. Terry did all the maintenance on it, and nobody was allowed to drive it, not even Maggie. Well, there was one time she drove it, but that was a different story.
Crack, crack, crack! Three more bolts hit in quick succession and the hair on the back of his head stood straight up. The F250 felt like it was going to sink into the earth as it swayed under the intense air pressure.
Off to his right, Terry heard it before he ever saw it. Even though it was only just past 2pm, the air was almost dark like twilight. A quick succession of lightning strikes revealed the origin of the sound. He knew immediately that a tornado had formed.
Through the swirling debris and hail that pelted the truck, Terry tried to look for a way out, but knew that any path of escape had come and gone a long time ago. The sound of the tornado grew louder and he could no longer even hear the sounds of the sirens in the city.
Screaming to the gods he did not believe in, Terry’s bravado melted into whimpers. “Why did we not listen to those who said this was coming?”
People were going to be hurt in this storm. As far as he could remember from all the stories, there was nothing to equal what he saw playing out before him. The figure in the clouds seemed to dance with glee and to his horror, Terry saw first one tornado, and then another, form off to the left. There were now three competing tornadoes on the ground.
Driven with despair, he no longer cared about the welfare of his grandpa’s truck. He only wanted to live.
On the far side of town, the earth exploded upwards as the fiery lightning rained down upon the town. Terry began to wretch as he smelt the sulphuric fumes assault his nose and senses. Before he could move, the road around him began to melt and crumble and all the young man had left was to briefly contemplate the memories of all that he had accomplished. Sadly, there was so much more he wanted to do with his life, but it was too late. He had waited too long.
Resigned to his fate, he stared at the clouds as they rained death upon the town. They were coming for him as well and the beauty of the storm in its beginning was now vastly more superior in its form as the beast.
Terry’s moans grew shallower as the fumes overwhelmed him. In just a few minutes, the pristine paint job was reduced to peeling paint flecks. The pings of tiny pieces of hail gave way to the thundering booms of ice that had transformed into balls the size of grapefruits.
He never saw the waves of fiery mud that crashed over the truck and soon all was quiet. The storm dissipated over the next few days and green grass began to sprout up from the destroyed earth. Flowers quickly followed and you would never have guessed that destruction had reigned on the town.
Walking over the field, Madison and her team looked at the clouds gathering around the base of the mountain. If she was not careful, the rain would catch her and the last thing she wanted to do was catch a cold.
Turning back to their hover vehicles, Madison’s insistence that they escape the coming storm brought laughs from her team members. They had been with her for several years and they knew she hated storms. Each team entered their designated GeoPod and proceeded to log in the coordinates for their return to main base camp. As leader, Madison always traveled by herself, which was fine by the rest as they did not fancy being harangued by her lectures.
Madison pushed the pulsing electo-start button, but even the short delay had cost them. It was too late. With several ear-splitting cracks, the skies erupted. Electrical surges shorted out each vehicle and even though she could see them, Madison could not hear the screams emanating from each of her team members. The storm arrived so suddenly and all they could do was to sit and hope that it moved off quickly.
The earth began to quake and Madison screamed as her GeoPod began to sink into the ground. It was as if the earth had turned to water. As it continued to shift, her mind began to play tricks on her. She knew her time as a scientist was coming to an end and whatever happened now would bring no comfort.
The earth churned again and a great crevasse yawned open just a few feet in front of her pod. The fumes began to assault her senses, but as she stared at death approaching, she was shocked to see an ancient vehicle slide out of the mud in front of her. Her memory and love for history told her that it was what was called a pickup truck from the last part of the 20th century.
Gasping her last breaths, something else slid out of the mud and pressed up against the plexifiber window. The force of the pressure was causing the window to splinter and Madison knew it would be but seconds before the fiery mud swallowed her.
Strangely, her mind became coherent enough to see that the object pressing on the window of her GeoPod had an old style of English writing on it. She could barely make out the words, but they finally came to her just as the window shattered in its entirety.
“Welcome to Pompeii!”
Fiume, Austro-Hungarian Empire
Allowing the strangeness of the name to roll off my tongue, I was relishing the thought of serving as an attaché to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This empire was a combination of the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary. While it would not be my first trip to Europe, it would certainly be the first in my new role. Several years of serving faithfully in every situation had continuously put my name and face in front of those at higher levels. As my positions rose, so did my pay and responsibilities. I knew that serving as an attaché should put me in line for a possible Ambassadorship in another twelve years — maybe ten if I was fortunate.
My ship was leaving on March 28th, but due to the carelessness of track workers, a section of rail had caused a derailment on the route between Chicago and New York. Sitting idly on a sidetrack, I went to the radio car and prepared a telegraph to my superior.
“TRAIN DERAILMENT. STOP. TWO WEEK SHIPPING DELAY. STOP. PORT CALL TRIESTE ITALY. STOP. ARRIVE TRIUME APRIL 20. FULL STOP.”
Proud of my ability to save money for the government, I extended the yellow paper to the clerk. Noting my words, he looked at me for a moment before proceeding to tap out the message. Telegraphs had been around for several decades but the speed at which a message could be delivered still amazed me.
Eventually, we arrived at New York’s Penn Station. Sure enough, I called a special number and they told me the SS Invernia had left two days prior.
With a sigh, I paid a porter to transfer my bags to the Vanderbilt Hotel . Government workers, who were in transit, could stay in any one of the rooms that had been permanently reserved for those with appropriate clearances. There were not too many clearances higher than that of an attaché seconded to the US Embassy in Fiume.
My stay was uneventful and early in the cool, foggy New York morning. It was Thursday, April 11th. Taking a taxicab down to Pier 54, I boarded the RMS Carpathia. The ship was well equipped and it was not long before I was settled into my First Class Cabin. Nobody could say traveling as an attaché did not come with a few privileges. Of course, I felt it was about time after some of the accommodations I had lived through for the first ten years of my career.
As the ship pulled away from the dock to the normal fanfare, I looked briefly over to toward the Statue of Liberty and then back towards Manhattan. I could not help but wonder how long it would be before I ever saw the shores of America again. There was no way I could know that it would be exactly one week later.
With one final flourish of the ship’s horns, we headed east across the Atlantic. Being a person who likes to stay fit, I spent time each morning and evening walking around the upper and lower decks that graced the exterior of the ship. Sadly, the weather was not that conducive to enjoying some of the normal deck activities as I had on previous trips. Bundling up with my wool coat against the sharp, biting, wet cold wind that swirled across the decks like a whirling dervish, it was all I could do to speak amiably with each crew member who passed me. They always paid me with deference when they learned who I was, or rather, what my new position entailed, and even Captain Rostron had made it a point to invite me to take my evening meals with him.
Having concluded a wonderful meal on Sunday evening, I made my adieus to those sitting at my table and retired for the night. Shortly after midnight, I woke suddenly aware that something was not quite right.
Straining to see in the darkness, I got up from my bed and stumbled over to the door where I managed to find the switch that would light up my cabin. Finally coming fully awake, I realized that the ship was leaning to port and the noise of the engines had increased to a pitch I had not heard over the last 3 days of the trip.
Pulling on my clothes, I quickly grabbed my coat and walked out to the main deck. The crew acted like madmen as they scrambled around coiling ropes and removing items from each of the decks.
From the corner of my eye, I caught sight of the First Officer on the deck right above me. Dashing between crewmembers, I climbed one of the deck staircases and approached the man.
“I say man, what is happening in the middle of the night that is causing such a rush?”
Turning to face me, the First Officer’s bloodshot eyes told me that he had been too long without sleep. Speaking in his strong British accent, he responded.
“Mr. Hurley, sir, I am not at liberty to say. However, you are welcome to approach the bridge and speak to the Cap’n.”
No other words were said and I set my mind to finding the stairs that would lead to the topmost deck. Gaining permission from the Officer of the Watch, Captain Roston solemnly informed me that a sister ship was in trouble.
“May I ask which ship, Captain?”
“It is the newest ship of the White Star Line, RMS Titanic.”
“Ah, Captain Roston, I have read of this ship. It is said that she is unsinkable, and that…”
My voice trailed off as I saw the strange look that crossed the captain’s face.
“Mr. Hurley, we are steaming ahead faster than the RMS Carpathia has ever gone, but we may be too late. The radio operator for the RMS Titanic has signaled that the she is already taking on water at the bow. The unsinkable ship will sink before the night is out!”
“What can we do to help?” My voice sounded very distant even as I spoke the words.
Relaying orders, I promised to gather as many passengers as possible to help with the rescue efforts that were already underway.
Turning to leave, I hesitated to ask one more question. “Captain Roston, how many people will need to be rescued from RMS Titanic?”
“Mr. Hurley, the radio operator signaled that there are just over 2,200 souls on board. We will have our work cut out for us.”
Even as I write these words, tears fill my eyes for nobody on board the RMS Carpathia could have been prepared for what we would see over the next few hours. I had the privilege of a good position and of having seen many places. However, words fail me in a vain attempt to fully describe the scene.
It took us three and one-half hours to arrive to the last radioed location of RMS Titanic. Along the way, we steamed forcefully through massive icefields and I can remember passing at least one-half dozen full size icebergs that towered over our ship.
When we arrived, there was an eerie calm that descended over our ship. Crew and passengers realized immediately that the RMS Titanic had gone below the waves forever. Yet, there were no screams coming from the debris that floated by on both sides of our ship. Even the children and babies on board each lifeboat were mostly silent. There were a few whimpers from the freezing survivors as we pulled up beside the first lifeboat.
At 4:10am, I helped some of the crew to winch up the lifeboat. I don’t think anybody really thought about it, but no other ships made an appearance to help. For almost five bone-chilling hours, we were able to locate twenty lifeboats. Sadly, most were not even half full. There was only room though to keep thirteen of the boats and the rest were left floating empty in the North Atlantic.
Looking up at Captain Roston at one point, he was shaking his white beard sadly. I could only imagine that he was wondering why there were not more survivors. When the final tally was made by the stewards, the RMS Carpathiahad managed to rescue 706 living souls.
Around us in the light of day, the horrors of over 1,500 people floating in the icy waters threw a blanket of gloom over each survivor and those already on the RMS Carpathia. From my position, I observed men, women, and children floating like dolls in a bathtub. Clothes in disarray and many in bedclothes, there was nothing that could be done. All hope was lost for those who had trusted in the engineering abilities of mere man.
There were 700 of us on the RMS Carpathia when we left Pier 54 and there were now 1,406 on board. Comforts were forgotten and each of us provided food, drink, and clothes to the ragtag survivors.
The Captain called for the chaplain and a short service was held in which those who remained in death’s repose were committed to the safekeeping of God. While we maneuvered through over 25 more dangerous icebergs, the ship’s bells tolled as a death knell and the ship fell silent that freezing afternoon of April 15th.
Turning back to New York, the Captain pushed the engines as hard as they would go and on April 18th, at 9:25pm, we arrived back to the shores of Pier 54.
My heart ached as I watched each passenger disembark, I wondered at the brevity of life. First, Second, and Third Class passengers mingled on deck with almost total disregard for their social status. All of us had shed tears and sought to bring comfort to those bereaved souls, but life would never be normal for any of them ever again.
One week later, I left again on the RMS Carpathia and eventually made it to Trieste, Italy and then on to my post in Fiume in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but my life would never be the same. I never took another day for granted and life became precious to me all because I boarded a boat and arrived at an unplanned destination.
This entry was posted in authors, fiction, Flash Stories, Uncategorized and tagged Austrian Empire, Carpathia, Fiume, flash fiction, icebergs, Kingdom of Hungary, New York City, stories, Titanic, tragedy, Vanderbilt Hotel.
Murderous thoughts flooded my brain until it consumed me. She should have known better than to cross paths with me, now she would pay for everything she represented.
For too many nights, I had watched her mock me. Her actions showed that she was oblivious to my feelings or my emotions. It had been a long time since I had chosen to endure the humiliation.
One would be wise to assume that I could have just asked her to move out, but in many ways I guess I am but a coward at heart.
Our relationship had started innocently enough for I was amazed at the grace she exhibited when she moved. Her long slender legs were the things of dreams, and there had been more than one of those in recent days.
Sadly, her actions had changed, almost overnight, and the dreams turned to nightmares. In these night terrors, there was no escape. Waking up in cold sweats, I could only imagine that it would be a matter of time before one of us would end up dead.
Each day, I warily sampled my breakfast, lunch, and dinner wondering whether she intended to poison me. My imagination ran wild as to what it would feel like to die such a gruesome death. All that took place was that my heart became more determined to find a way to remove her from my life.
Yet, I was also selfish. I could have allowed her to leave and live with another, but I would never be willing to share her. Looking back now, I can remember her dark eyes watched me and I knew she was waiting for me to drift off to another round of troubled dreams.
Often I would try to stay awake as long as possible fearing what the night might bring. Her stamina surpassed mine on several levels, but I was not able to stay awake for long.
We would argue incessantly, but she always managed to have the upper hand. I pleaded with her to just leave and enjoy her life with others, but she normally ignored me.
The finale came sooner than I was expecting. After a long day at work, I came home only to become entangled in another argument with her. The results terrified me, and my children screamed as they watched us face off once again.
Putting the children to bed, I prepared one last attempt to reconcile, but she refused to listen. The arguments escalated again until I thought it would wake the children. Walking into our bedroom, I shut the door, but I knew it was futile. Threats would no longer work and we both knew it.
Before I could contain my anger, I grabbed a large walking stick from the closet. Screaming at her to just leave us alone, the chase began and it was over almost before it had started. Blood splattered on the wall and my weapon as I hit her over and over again.
Collapsing in sheer exhaustion, I fell onto the bed. I knew with the deed complete, I would have to remove the body before my children woke up. For the first time in a very long time, I was free, no matter what tomorrow held.
Summoning up the courage necessary, I drifted off to a dreamless state knowing I would have a little time in the morning.
The sun was streaming through the lace that covered my bedroom when I finally awoke. My mind told me it would be a beautiful day, but then the memory of the previous night brought reality crashing down on me.
I was now fully awake. Sitting straight up in bed, my mind seemed a little fuddled as I stared at the bat in the corner and the wall. There was no blood and no evidence of the damage that I know I had inflicted.
On the pillow beside me, a paper fluttered in the breeze from the fan beside our bed. Picking it up, I read it twice through trying to ascertain what had transpired.
“Don’t worry, I took care of the body.”
At that moment, the door handle clicked and a hand pushed open the bedroom door. Stepping into the room, my wife spoke to me.
“Sweetheart, I see you read my message. I was afraid you would wake up before I returned from my college class, so I left the note.”
“Violet, what is going on? What did you do with her?”
“Sweetheart, I came home and cleaned up the mess. You and our children will never have to worry about her again!”
My mind whirled with the realization that my wife had covered my tracks so carefully, but then she spoke again.
“I just have one question. Did you really have to use a bat to kill the spider that lived in the corner?”
Originally Published here at Warrior Writers on Medium