The sky was red – blood red – everywhere he looked.
Red satanic mills lighting the way ahead, roiling black spires of writhing cloud overhead, and trees on both sides of a blood-soaked canal reduced to glowing embers as, not so far away now, walls of orange flame moved through a row of medieval buildings – those ancient timbers adding their cry to the night.
And then there was the music.
A dark lament, yet he heard sublime chords weaving new tapestries into and out of the licking flames. Timbers consumed by the roving fires split and burst howling into the night, coming together in the music before lifting away into the night – embers to stars – pitiless onlookers all as they rose from the earth.
First there was the fire and the music – coming together as yellow lightning moved across the charred prairie beyond the canal – then the smoke. Suffocating smoke and gritty remains started falling from the clouds, the soot smothering flames as the tarry remnants of human agony covered the earth and finally lay still…
He was coughing now, coughing and hardly able to breathe, Clyde’s eyes were full of panic as he too coughed and gasped. Then a voice, faraway and cool:
“Take a deep breath…
“That’s it, take another…”
He felt cool plastic around his mouth and nose, could just hear the hiss of oxygen beneath her voice as he opened his eyes…
Two IV bags were hanging from one of the hand-holds on the ceiling and he knew they were connected to the port in his chest. Some sort of glucose solution in one; the other a vampire’s brew of platelets and plasma, and he reached out – feeling his body in this world once again, wondering how much more he could take.
A pulse oximeter on his index finger, a BP cuff on his right arm, and there was Rolf pumping up the cuff as Dina passed along another of the dark arts; she was even now teaching him, training him, and he could see budding interest everywhere the boy’s eyes scanned.
He took a deep breath and the cool oxygen felt good inside his nose – but – ‘What is that I smell? Honeysuckle?’
He looked up through the overhead hatch and could see a Linden tree wrapped in autumnal reds and golds, a coppery-blue sky beyond, and there was a gentle weight on his chest: Clyde – his muzzle resting lightly in the last fading shade of the dream.
‘Not Rotterdam. Not even earth – I feel sure of that. But…where were we this time…?”
“Ah, Henry! You are awake!”
“I’ll have to take your word for it, Dina. And is that a tree I see up there?” Taggart asked, pointing at the Linden. “Because, and this is important, I don’t remember trees growing in the ocean.”
“We are moored outside of Bruges, warped off to several stout trees.”
“The storm. Epsilon, right? Rolf, where is it now?”
“The eye is between Brest and Exeter, almost exactly in the middle of the Channel, but Henry, the surrounding weather is beginning to behave in a most peculiar manner.”
“Water temps now over a hundred, winds in the outer bands now in excess of 250 knots…”
Taggart sat up, rubbed his eyes while he tried to get those numbers to make some sort of sense. “Did you say 250 – as in knots?”
“Yes, and the northeast quadrant of the eye wall is over 320 knots.”
“That’s not possible.”
“That’s exactly what Anton said,” Dina added, scowling.
“Anton? Who the hell is Anton?”
“The Russian pilot. Do you not remember all that?”
“Vaguely. Something to do with World War Three, right?”
Dina shook her head and rolled her eyes.
“How are our supplies holding out?” Taggart asked.
“Fine now. We went into town and bought enough to stock a small hospital…”
“And I have more rope, too,” Rolf added. “Right now the storm is tracking a little to the north…”
“What? You mean north, as in towards London?”
“So, assuming it…”
“Precisely,” Rolf added. “If it tracks just a little south landfall could occur somewhere along this coast tomorrow morning.”
“Dina, you were saying? What about supplies for Mike’s burns?”
She nodded, smiling a little once again, if only because even after fifty years she still had to hold her tongue when men, and even boys, talked over her. “We are good now, and we were lucky with food supplies here. Apparently many stores in Brussels are quite bare.”
“Salmon for Clyde?”
“Yes, and very fresh, too.”
“So, how bad is it out there?”
She nodded. “Better that expected. People still using cash and electronic money equally well. ATMs seemed to have enough cash on hand, too.”
“How’s our fuel, Rolf?”
“We beat the rush into Zeebrugge last night and we have full tanks now, plus the four five-gallon jugs still in the garage.”
“What do you need help with?”
“Nothing, really. Like I said, I have extra rope ready to deploy if needed.”
Henry smiled and nodded, then Clyde looked at him and sighed. “And what do you need, Amigo? Besides some fresh salmon?”
“Any good bushes around here?” he asked, looking to Dina.
“He just went, Henry,” Dina sighed.
“And how are you doing?” he asked – finally engaging her eyes.
“I’m scared – and a little lonely.”
“Understandable. Not many people had a ringside seat at armageddon and managed to survive the night to talk about it.”
She slipped onto the berth and under his arm, pushing Clyde out of the way as she rested the side of her face on Henry’s chest, listening to his breathing and his beating heart in a decidedly non-clinical way, and feeling now more than anything just happy that he was still here. And Rolf had the good sense to get up and leave them alone, too.
“I have never been so frightened in my life,” she sighed, suddenly trembling as memories of their night came back to her. “The wind has been out of the west ever since, so fallout is spreading inland; there are reports it is very bad near Hamburg and Berlin, Copenhagen also.”
“What about us?”
“I suspect low level radiation exposure for all of us, but I have no idea how much that Russian was exposed to.”
He heard the venom in her voice and tried to ignore it – for now. “You think there are food shortages?”
“Yes, but this is to be expected. Aid convoys from the United States are being loaded now and should be here early next week, and the Chinese have been flying in field hospitals and medical supplies.”
“How did the boy take it?”
“Better than I expected, Henry. In fact, he seemed most concerned that he get things done in a way that you would approve. Dedicated, I think, is the word that comes to mind…”
“For a teenager that’s kind of a miracle, don’t you think?”
She shrugged. “Perhaps, but he has seen what the Time Bandits are capable of, and I think he appreciates what they mean to our future.”
“I wonder how much damage radiation did to her hull?”
“The stern took the worst of it, but the mast, too…”
“Yup, probably a new mast and, well, a couple of new sails are a given, but stripping off the gelcoat to see how deep the damage goes inside the hull…you’ll need to do that next spring, by the way…so that will be your number one priority. I’m in the process of writing it all out, by the way.”
“Good. Have you been getting hungry at all?”
“No, not really.”
“How about some soup?”
“I have bread in the oven now, too.”
“I know – I think that’s what woke me up. Best smell in the world, isn’t it?”
She smiled. “That…and a strong brew of coffee. Together those create a magic all their own.”
“Yeah. We have our flaws, but we manage to pull a few rabbits out of our hats every now and then, too.”
“Are you worried about…them?”
“Them? No, not really. What’s done is done, at least as far as they are concerned.”
“And what about Eva, and Britt? What is happening to them?”
“You probably shouldn’t worry too much about them, Dina…”
She seemed taken aback by that, and sat up – her eyes flaring in anger; “That is the most terrifying thing you have ever said to me, Henry. Just what am I supposed to make of a statement like that.”
“Indeed? Do you really?”
“Of course, but the truth of the matter is I trust – them – a lot more than you do.”
“They could be…”
“Not harmed. Not ever. In fact, they are safer now than they’ve ever been.”
“I see. Will I see my daughter again?”
He nodded. “As soon as we get to Paris you will go pick her up.”
“What?! You mean, I will be leaving you again?”
“Just for a few hours – and because you are the only one here who knows where to look.”
He sat up, coughing now as fluids pushed against his lungs – then an arrhythmia shook his heart and he closed his eyes until it too passed – then he took a couple of deep breaths and tried to concentrate.
“I must find an aircraft, one that the Russian knows how to fly, and you must go to Bergen. I will write down what you need to do, who you need to see once you get there…”
“The Russian? You trust this man?”
Henry shrugged: “Everything seems to be happening for a reason right now, Dina. Please try to remember that every time you find yourself confronting the new and the unknown.”
Yet even as he spoke those words he could feel Eva probing his thoughts, then Britt was there too. He closed his eyes and felt them coiling around his thoughts, smiling as he basked in their warmth. Reaching out now, he could feel the warm water, almost feel the rough skin as orcas slid alongside the girls…
Then a gust of hot wind slammed into Time Bandits, knocking her into the muddy banks of the canal. He heard Rolf running up the companionway, then he was talking to Mike, deciding what needed to be done as Epsilon’s steamy tendrils started to reach out for them.
‘Was that a dream?’ he wondered. Or would this storm bring red skies and burning timbers to the coming night?
He tried to sit up – but couldn’t – and the feeling of helplessness that came next only made him angrier.
He took several deep breaths and willed himself to stand – and Dina was right there with him, removing the IVs from the port and swabbing his chest with alcohol.
“Do you want to go topsides?” she asked.
He nodded and held onto her as she led him up the companionway steps into the cockpit – and the change was so startling it left him feeling even more breathless.
Time Bandits was no longer a creature of the open sea; here she was, now – bound to the earth in places, to trees in others, and in a canal perhaps 20 meters wide – surrounded by trees and medieval buildings…in short, all the ingredients to make his last dream come true.
He turned and looked up at the sky and the old Russian was by his side in an instant.
“Sky not look right,” the old bear grumbled. “Too hot. No clouds.”
Taggart nodded. “Do you know how to fly any business jets?”
“737 smallest thing I fly long time.”
“I need you to go up to Bergen, get some people and bring them to France.”
“Okay, can do.”
“Rolf? Pull up the Metars page, would you?”
The weather page filled the plotter’s display and Henry bent over and scanned the isobars over the Channel. “Okay, hit the 24 hour forecast.”
The page froze and an error message popped up.
“Try backing out to the main page again…”
Dina saw it first, and she gasped before she jumped back and away.
A swirling pink sphere not a half-meter in diameter was up by the masthead, and when Henry stopped talking and looked up Pinky fell quickly and stopped right in front of his face. This was of course Anton’s first meeting and he back-peddled with flailing arms until he launched into a sputtering back-flip, landing in the canal like a small whale…
But then Pinky did something she had never done before.
She slipped inside Henry Taggart – until her soul rested beside his.
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop as and when circumstances allow.
[a wee update: words like pulmonary thrombosis and pericardial effusion entered my lexicon this past week, two liters of fluid around the left lung that had to be drained (very un-fun) in the process with more coming up next week; I am ‘out of the woods’ once again and sitting at the iMac, catching up with emails as best I can. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate all the love and support.]