Authors: Greg Curtis
Tags: #Fantasy, #Paranormal, #Contemporary
Copyright 2012 by Greg Curtis.
This book is dedicated to my mother Ruth Curtis and my sister Lucille Curtis, my biggest supporters, harshest critics and all round cheer team, and without whom this book would not have been written. It’s also dedicated to my father Allen Curtis, gone too soon but not forgotten.
This book was inspired by the 1979 tv miniseries The Aphrodite Inheritance by Michael J Bird.
It was a lovely day. The hot sun was beating down over the softly rippling ocean, creating a path of golden radiance that cut across its perfect deep blue. The air was warm and filled with the scent of fresh salt water, while the sounds of gulls calling out to one another as they hunted for food, and the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore, filled the air. And of course the sparkling white sand was beautifully warm, just perfect to stretch out on, exactly as it should be.
It was a lovely day from a dream of paradise. Just one more in an endless summer of warm sunny days.
In the middle of the half moon shaped bay, camped three quarters of the way up the beach where the sand was dry and warm and yielded to the weight of a body, a woman in a stunning white one piece bathing costume was reclining on a beach lounger under a bright yellow sun umbrella. There was a small table beside her with a fruit cocktail on it, complete with straws and a tiny umbrella of its own, and a set of beach towels draped over the side.
Anyone seeing her would have thought her beautiful. There could be no doubt of that. But they would have been hard pressed to describe what it was about her that was so lovely. In fact they would have had difficulty describing her at all.
In age she was young. Fit and strong and glowing with the vitality of youth, and wearing a white swimsuit that looked as though it had just come from the fashion shows of Paris or Milan, everything about her was on show for all to see. The glow of health and youth was as plain as the nose on her face. No one who saw her could ever have thought her less than perfect. No one could have imagined that any of the disfigurements of age had yet touched her. And yet looking more closely, maybe she could have been a little older, her figure showing the fullness of a woman and not a child, even if there was not a wrinkle on her. Then again, after taking a little time to reflect on it, perhaps she would also have seemed ageless. Maybe it was the eyes that spoke of timeless vision. Of having seen everything and expecting to see it all again.
The health and vitality of youth, the fullness of maturity and the wisdom of age, all somehow embodied in one woman.
Strangely, though her face and figure were as perfect an example of womanly beauty as could imagined, men wouldn’t have been attracted to her. Nor women for that matter. There was something about her that spoke of distance, of a beauty reserved more for paintings and great works of art than for the base attractions of mortal men. Her beauty somehow seemed to be beyond the purely physical. Too perfect. Something not to be touched.
As for her race, who could say? Maybe she was Caucasian with blond hair and blue eyes, maybe somewhat more Latino with darker skin and brown eyes. Perhaps she was of one of the darker skinned peoples again. She could be of any of them, or all of them, or none. It simply wasn’t clear.
Possibly, anyone seeing her would have regarded her as a tourist, a sun seeker simply out enjoying the day. Certainly with sun umbrella, the swimsuit and the cocktail she looked the part. But there was more to her than simple hedonistic pleasure seeking. One look in her eyes would have told anyone that. For her this was as much about business as it was pleasure, even if she didn’t seem to be working.
Still, apart from her great beauty and the serene smile, she could have been any one of the millions of people who vacationed on tropical beaches all around the world every day. Except that she was completely alone.
There were no other tourists on the beach beside her, no swimmers in the water, no boats or paragliders. There weren’t even any hotels or resorts behind her. It was an empty beach, far from anywhere. The sort of beach one might expect to find on a deserted island. Not the place where you would expect to find tourists.
Maybe it was her private beach. That would explain how she could sun bathe there alone. But not the lack of at least a beach house.
From over the crest of the dunes behind her, another woman suddenly appeared, and walked towards her. This new woman though, she was young, and she was pretty in the come hither fashion of more normal men and women. And where the first woman had a serene aura about her, this new woman looked worried. She looked as though she had something urgent to say. But still when she reached her, when she stood in front of her, blocking her view of the sea, she waited patiently before speaking.
“Eunomia?” The sun seeker gave her permission to speak with a small wave of her hand.
“It has happened, as you said it would.”
Clearly the news didn’t come as a shock to the sun seeker. Nor was it a bother to her. She just smiled a little more and nodded almost imperceptibly. She didn’t say anything though, and that seemed to trouble her visitor.
“Is there anything we should do?”
“No. It will be as it must.” Finally the woman strung a few words together and her voice just added to the uncertainty as to who she was. Like everything else about her, her voice was beautiful but still somehow beyond recognition. She had an accent, but no one could have described it. And though her voice was young and vibrant, it too resonated with a timeless quality. Listening to her speak, no one could have identified anything about her. Not where she was from, not even when.
“There’s nothing to do. Everything is in place as it is meant to be. You know that.” That was as much of an answer as the second woman was going to get. She obviously realised that when she watched the first woman’s attention leave her and return to the sea. And possibly, maybe probably, it should have been enough. But it wasn’t. Her sigh said as much. But still she had been dismissed and that was the end of the matter.
With another small sigh she left, heading back up the beach towards the dunes and then disappearing behind them, her footprints in the sand strangely vanishing behind her as she walked.
Meanwhile the sun seeker took a small sip of her drink from the table, and returned to the important business of simply enjoying the day as she did every day. But one thing was changed. After her visitor had left she allowed a small smile of satisfaction to grace her face.
Whatever it was that had happened, it was obviously all working out according to her plans. Or someone’s plans for her.
It was as he was driving down Fielder’s Road that Rufus’s world took a sharp left turn, though until that very moment he’d had no idea that the corner was coming up at all. He hadn’t realised anything much at all until then. All he knew was that it was a nice spring day, that for once England’s green and pleasant land was actually green and pleasant and not grey and damp, that the radio was set to the classical channels, and that he had plenty of time to make his next appointment. Even the view was pleasing as he drove down the country road that ran along the crest of a stock bank, raised well above the lush green fields on both sides so that he could enjoy the countryside as he passed it by. Things seemed good.
That was a strange feeling for him to know. One a very long time in coming. Normally he didn’t look for things like goodness or happiness. He wasn’t a passionate, joyful person. He didn’t look for excitement and laughter or huge emotional rewards. Instead he took the little joy in his life from more quiet pursuits. A cryptic crossword, some pleasant music, a good cup of coffee and a book to read, working on his car, those were the things he enjoyed. And in the end, the one thing that he truly looked for in his continuing existence, was safety. If he was safe he was happy.
That was enough for him. A quiet, peaceful life. A house where he could be alone in comfort without the need to worry who might be at the door. A safe job that he could do without taxing himself. People he could pass a few words with, without having to get involved in their lives. Or they in his.
Others saw him as boring, and probably he was. They said he should get out more, meet people, find a girl, all of those foolish things that men his age were supposed to do. Things he simply didn’t want to do. They were things for other people. Give him enough money to live comfortably on, a good book to read, and a place to call his own, and a good security lock and that was his understanding of happiness.
But over time things had changed a little. Not a lot and never quickly. He was never the sort to change drastically. Still he had changed, he had come out of his shell a little. So he might talk with his neighbours, he might watch an important game on the telly just in case someone wanted to talk about it in the office the next day. Sometimes he might even go online and chat with people on the various fora. And his work was the same. So instead of driving in peaceful silence, over the years he’d discovered the radio and music. Classical music maybe, not the most popular choice for a young man but he liked it. Sometimes he’d spend more than the bare minimum time speaking with a client or a colleague. He might even share a genuine laugh at a joke, where once he’d never found them funny. Small things to most people, giant steps for him. In his wilder moments he had even started thinking about getting a pet. A cat maybe. Though it might be cruel to the animal to have him for an owner.
Times were changing for Rufus, slowly, and like a glacier beginning to melt, he was learning to find joy in life. Things were becoming enjoyable.
Until they weren’t.
The first he knew of his troubles was when he heard the bang, though in truth it was more like a cannon exploding between his ears than a sound. With it came a massive impact as he was shoved brutally down into the car seat by the shocking power of the car being thrown upwards with impossible force. After that things became very confused.
Time slowed down as he’d never imagined possible, but it didn’t help. It just let him know more fear. He was still trapped in his seat waiting to die. His stomach leapt into his mouth and his heart stopped dead in fright as he knew he was about to hit something, hard. He knew it was going to hurt. For a short time he became weightless, though his ears were telling him he was actually spinning end over end like a gymnast doing somersaults. His eyes couldn’t tell him anything at all as the airbags had exploded and were blocking his view. But the one thing he was sure of, was that whatever had happened, it was bad, and it was going to get worse.
Then, after what were the longest seconds of his life, came the inevitable crash, the nightmare that he’d been waiting for for what seemed like an eternity. A grinding, metal tearing, deafening implosion of violence that pushed the front of the car hard into him. And of course that was only the first in a series of impacts that tossed him around like a leaf in a thunderstorm and destroyed the car all around him. Each one should have surely killed him save for the air bags that had activated which cushioned his impacts, and the belt that prevented him from moving. But they couldn’t save him from his terror and after each impact he panicked as he waited for the blow that would finally kill him. There were so many of them, coming from all sides. After the first bone crunching hit, there was more crazy spinning and then another hit and another and another, and so many more. And each one seemed more violent than the last. There was more metal tearing, and shrieking its agony all around, more buckling as the car was pushed in to him, and more long seconds of terror between them. All while he was thrown violently about in his seat, shaken like a rag doll, and while he waited to die.
But he didn’t die. Despite the bone breaking savagery of each tremendous impact, and the terrible wait for the next one, somehow he didn’t die. Nothing actually hit him, nothing sharp pierced him, nothing inside him even broke.
Instead eventually the impacts stopped and he listened instead to the sickening shriek of metal sliding along tarmac, a sound that somehow seemed to rip right through him. Then eventually, somehow, even that ended. Things stopped moving and a shocked calm returned to his world as much as it seemed impossible. It took time, lot’s of time, but after all the banging and crashing had stopped he slowly came to understand that it was over. That he had actually survived.
It was wrong of course, he should be dead a dozen times over. And even as it was he was upside down in the broken car, hanging from his seatbelt, surrounded by broken glass, twisted metal and nameless pieces of plastic, surely badly injured. The pain from every part of his body was telling him that. But despite surely having been killed a dozen times during the crash, he was actually alive. Breathing. And he could feel his fingers and toes.
It was then that he finally remembered to scream. It was a sound born of fear and relief and shock, and a thousand and one other dark emotions that had never before escaped his throat. A sound that had probably never escaped any human being’s throat before. He kept screaming for a long, long time after that, stopping only when the rawness of his throat prevented the noise from escaping. After that he just hung there, shaking.
A long time later, when he’d finally understood that he was still alive and more or less intact, he began the difficult task of extricating himself from the tangled mess that had been his car. First it was the turn of the seatbelt, which in hindsight was a mistake since he was hanging upside down in his seat, and pushing the button simply let him fall to the car’s roof and bang his head. Then came the door, and he swiftly discovered that there was no way it was going to open just because he pushed it. The pile of twisted metal and shattered glass that had once been a door was never going to open again. But he had to get out. The need to escape this metal coffin was almost primal. In the end he had to slither his way out through the broken front windscreen on his belly, taking a few more cuts and scrapes along the way. But he didn’t mind that. Not when he could see the open country in front of him.
Once he’d finally escaped the wreck he somehow managed to find his feet, something that wasn’t easy when his knees were shaking violently, and hobbled away from it, worried that the car might explode. Of course it didn’t, that was a Hollywood invention, cars very seldom blew up, but he felt safer further away from it. And when he got far enough away from it that he felt safe, he finally had the chance to turn around and see the wreckage. When he did though, it made him wonder just how he’d survived at all.
The car was upside down in the middle of the road, a tortured, twisted lump of metal that barely resembled a vehicle at all. All around it, scattered across the bitumen, were bits and pieces of it, nuts and bolts, bits of metal, shards of glass and pieces of plastic, forming a trail that ran surely several hundred meters back along the road to where the crash had started. And there, though it was madness, he could see the origin of the crash standing proudly in the distance. His back wheels.
Actually it was more than just the wheels. There was the axel and differential between them, holding them together and that in turn was attached to a piece of the drive shaft which was imbedded in the road, supporting the entire structure like some sort of bizarre scarecrow with its arms outstretched. Looking at it, seeing it with his own eyes, Rufus had to wonder for a bit if he was going crazy. If he’d taken a blow to the head. A serious blow that was. He was sure he’d taken blows to every part of his body.
He’d seen hundreds of crashes, thousands in all likelihood. That was his job, to assess the losses from accidents and fires, and to make sure that there was no evidence of foul play. His company tended to frown on that, and they certainly didn’t like paying out money on it. But in all the accident scenes he’d visited, all the photos he’d seen, he’d never seen anything like the sight in front of him. He’d never heard of anything like it.
Rufus spent some considerable time staring at the unbelievable scene, before he eventually remembered to do the basics. After all he’d been in a car crash and there were things to do. Things that everyone was supposed to do.
Somehow he found his phone, which by some miracle was still in his pocket and still intact, and strangest of all, still had power. How could that be? But it didn’t really matter and instead of staring at it like a madman, he rang the emergency services. After that came the inevitable questions from the emergency operator on the other end of the line. Where was he? Was he alright? Was anyone hurt? He answered them all as best he could, even managed to send the woman a couple of pictures of the wreck from the phone, but in truth he was really too numb to give them his full attention. And his knees wouldn’t stop shaking.
So really he just told the woman what she needed to hear and forgot about everything else. Until the sound of a heavy diesel engine roaring angrily in the distance managed to drag his attention away from the conversation. He turned to see a truck barrelling down the road towards him and the remains of his car.
“Oh crap!” That was when his brain started finally kicking back into life. Forgetting the woman on the other end of the line, he got up, never realising he’d sat down, and started waving down the truck frantically. He needed some water and maybe a little bit of first aid as well, but he also didn’t want the driver of the truck to come crashing into his wrecked car and have another accident, especially not near him. Two accidents in one day would be too much.
“Hey!” He waved his arm frantically at the oncoming truck, trying to warn them, even more frantically when he realised that they weren’t slowing down. Actually he decided, if anything they were speeding up. That made no sense. Surely they could see him? The twisted mess of metal behind him? But he still kept waving and walking on shaking legs towards them.
Then the bad became unexpectedly worse as instead of slowing down to help, the passenger leaned out the side of the cabin, a huge black weapon in his hand, and began firing at him.
For the longest time Rufus stared at the oncoming truck growing rapidly larger, at the dark figure pointing a gun at him, and the splashes of light that he knew were bullets hitting the road, wondering if he was dreaming it all. It made no sense. People didn’t drive down English country roads shooting at car crash victims. That just didn’t happen. And then there was the weapon itself.
It was a machine gun of some sort. Rufus knew that much if he knew nothing else. The rapid stream of explosions as it fired and sparks flying off the road all around him, said it could be nothing else. But a gun? A machine gun? Shooting at a car crash victim in the middle of the road? In England? It couldn’t be real. It was even more unreal than a part of his car having converted itself into a roadway scarecrow just a few hundred meters away from where he was standing, or his car simply destroying itself for no apparent reason. Maybe it was a movie.
At last though, as the bullets came closer and closer, the sparks bouncing all around his feet, a primitive part of his brain finally remembered to do something instead of simply standing there waiting to be killed. He had some survival instincts after all. He turned and dashed for the side of the road, before making a desperate leap down the small grassy bank. After that came another series of bruising, spinning, acrobatic rolls as he somehow found himself flying down the bank, completely out of control, smashing through the patches of scrub and bush and finally coming to rest in a creek.