What Pegman Saw – Payback time

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is New Orleans, Louisiana.

WPS - Payback time 181020

Lafayette Cemetery, New Orleans, Louisiana | Save Our Cemeteris Jean Mensa Google Maps

Payback time

She was skinny, dirty, and bruised and obstructed his passage through the cemetery. Clark tried to walk past her but, without seeming to move, she still blocked his path. Clark swiped, casually, to knock her out of the way but his blow hit nothing.

He looked more closely; she seemed familiar.

“I was the first,” she murmured, so quietly that he could scarcely hear.

Another girl, perhaps fourteen years old, stepped out bringing the stench of decay. Clark gasped. He’d left this one in a garbage dumpster.

“You sold my body for sex and then you murdered me.” She whispered the words.

Fire crackled ahead of him, fierce and orange.

He bolted from it, but the flames were faster. All around him children stared, accusing; judging.

When his screams eventually stopped, his corpse lay between the tombs, contorted but unburned. The children sighed in unison – and gently turned to mist.

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What Pegman Saw – Disappeared

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is Montevideo, Uruguay.

WPS - Disappeared 180811

Aeropuerto de Carrasco – Montevideo Uruguay | Google Maps

Genre: Historical fiction

Word count: 149

Disappeared

The car hummed south from Montevideo.

“They pulled another body out of the river this morning, a woman,” said Mateo.

“I heard the plane,” replied Jorge. “Heartless bastards those Argentinians. We should pray for her.”

I had been on that plane.

With forty others I had sat on the plane’s hard metal floor for perhaps an hour. I wasn’t afraid; after months of being beaten, or burned with electricity I saved terror for the torture cell.

A man in a white coat moved down the plane injecting each of us.

A door opened to the sky. Soldiers picked me up.

“Madre de Dios! This one’s awake!”

“Who cares? Toss her out!”

I plunged, until the thunder of air was replaced by the explosion of water and the shattering of my bones.

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

Author’s Notes

This story is essentially true.

From 1974 – 1983 the Argentinian government conducted a campaign of terror, the ‘Dirty War’, against those of its citizens who held contrary political views. Thousands of people were kidnapped, tortured and their bodies disposed of; they became known as ‘los desaparecidos’, or ‘the disappeared’. Sedating them and throwing them (alive) from aircraft was one of the ways they were ‘disappeared’. Many were dropped into the River Plate and some washed up in Uruguay, near Montevideo.

Wikipedia, as always, has a good deal of information.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_War

The novel ‘The Memory Stones’ by Caroline Brothers tells the story of how the dirty war affected one Argentinian family. It’s very powerful, in fact it’s painful to read, but it’s extremely well written. Her website can be found at http://www.carolinebrothers.com/index.php/books/the-memory-stones/80-the-memory-stones

Friday Fictioneers – PTSD

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - Candid Camera 180704

PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

PTSD

“Incoming!”

I wake up sweating and sobbing. Even after I force myself to open my eyes, to stop biting the pillow, to stop clawing the sheets, I can still smell the blood. Shaking uncontrollably, I stumble into the kitchen. The crimson ketchup on last night’s plate explodes into my field of view. I dive for cover.

“Pull y’self together, Private.”

“Suh!”

I drag myself to my feet and salute. Okay, so he’s dead, but you still gotta salute an officer.

Jimmy’s foot’s lying on the floor.

He’s lucky.

They’ve given him a prosthetic.

Wish they’d give me a new mind.

Pillars of the Community – back story

Last Wednesday I wrote a piece of flash fiction for Friday Fictioneers that I titled “Pillars of the Community”. People were kind enough to show an interest in what had happened to cause three very respectable women to keep a secret for fifty years, surrounding it with ritual and a dread oath. I promised to publish the back story – and here it is!

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Pillars of the Community – back story

Diane. Abigail. Susan.

They were inseparable.

When Diane was four, she had insisted on going to see Abigail and Susan to show them her Christmas present – on Christmas day – before lunch.

When Susan was five, she had demanded that Diane and Abigail should come on holiday with her family and had thrown multiple tantrums when this didn’t happen.

And Abigail always had to have the same things as Diane; if Diane had a pink hair-slide, then so must Abigail; if Diane read ‘Bunty’ then so must Abigail.

They all joined the Brownies on the same day. They moved up to the guides on the same day. They went to the same school, and when Diane had said “I want to do Ten Tors,” the other two had said “Great!” and “What a good idea!” even though Susan normally shunned strenuous activity, and Abigail was scared to death if she was ever alone outside after dark.

The training was tough. For their first outing on Dartmoor, Mr Johnson took them six miles on a rough track, allowed them thirty minutes to eat lunch and then marched them the six miles back on the same track. “A nice gentle stroll” was his description of the day. Susan slept in the minibus all the way back to school.

“What do you think of Mr Johnson?” Abigail asked Diane the next day.

“He’s okay.” Diane thought for a minute or two. “What did you think of him?”

“I think he’s creepy.” She looked at the ground. “Didn’t you mind when he put his arm around you?”

Diane flushed.

“Not really.” She studied the expression on her friend’s face. “I suppose I was a bit surprised.”

A few weeks later, they were practising packing their kit properly when Diane noticed that Abigail had disappeared – and so had Mr Johnson. A few moments later Abigail was back, scarlet and breathing heavily.

“Are you alright?”

Abigail nodded, but Diane could see the tracks of tears on her face.

“Here, let me help you,” she said.

Abigail sniffled; she never had a handkerchief. Diane passed over her own.

During the lunch-break, Diane said to Abigail, “Do you want to tell us about it?” Abigail’s face puckered, and she shook her head.

“I can’t,” she said.

“One for all, and all for one,” said Susan.

“No, I really can’t.”

“Was it Johnson?”

“He told me not to tell anybody,” wept Abigail.

“Yeah, well we’re your friends. You know you can trust us.”

“He kissed me. I said not to but he did anyway.”

Diane and Susan looked at each other. Susan put an arm round Abigail.

Diane was indignant. “I’ll find him after school and tell him he’s out of order.”

“No! No, please don’t, Di, or he’ll know I’ve told.”

“Somebody ought to say something, Abi, otherwise he’ll think he’s got away with it, and can try again.”

“You said I could trust you…” wailed Abigail.

“Yes, you can, of course you can, pet. Di won’t say anything, will you, Di?”

“Not if Abi doesn’t want it, of course I won’t. But Abi, I really think we should say something.”

Abigail’s tears were slowing. She shook her head.

“I’d much rather not,” she said.

A week or so later, Diane and Susan were waiting at the school gate for Abigail, who was coming from the private study classroom.

Diane glanced at her watch. “Where on earth can she be? She’s usually here before us. Shall we look for her, Sue?”

“We might miss her. She’s probably had to run an errand for the Head Mistress or something.”

Just then, they saw Abigail, trudging, dragging her feet. As she approached, they could see she was ashen.

Susan hugged her and held her close.

“Was it Johnson again?” demanded Diane. “What did he do?”

“I don’t want to say,” muttered Abigail.

Susan looked at Diane, and held her finger to her lips.

“You don’t need to say anything, Abi, dear. We understand. You’re alright now, you’re with us. We’ll take care of you.” She looked at Diane, who was fidgeting in her anxiety to say something. “Shut up, Di! Now is not the time.”

They set off home in silence. When they came to the bridge over the river, they stopped. They often did, for the river was beautiful in all seasons and at all times of the day.

Abigail leant over the parapet. Her feet left the pavement. Diane took hold of her arm.

“Don’t do that,” she said. Abigail sighed and put her feet back on the ground.

“He kissed me again. Then he tried to…to feel me, you know. I pushed his hand away but he’s so strong.” Her face was no longer pallid, but fiery red with shame. “It felt…it felt…” She couldn’t finish.

“What a bastard!”

“Really, Diane! You don’t need to swear!” Susan was indignant.

Diane took hold of Abigail’s shoulders. “Abi. Listen to me. We’ve got to tell someone now. Will you let us all go and talk to the Head Mistress tomorrow morning?”

Abigail pondered for a long moment, then, “Alright,” she said.

Next day it was Diane who took the lead, Diane who made an appointment with the Head Mistress, Diane who cajoled Abigail to speak.

The Head Mistress listened carefully. These were trustworthy girls. She would have believed them about almost anything. Why, she was hoping that Abigail would win a scholarship to Cambridge in a few years time!

And yet, Mr Johnson was a highly respected teacher. There had never been a hint of scandal about him. He was highly qualified and his pupils did well. Surely he would have shown signs of this sort of weakness before?

“Did he leave any marks on you, Abigail?”

“No, Miss Carter.”

“Did he expose himself to you?”

“No, Miss Carter.”

Miss Carter folded her hands on the desk. Any hint of this would end Mr Johnson’s career. There wasn’t enough evidence to report to the police. She couldn’t, she really couldn’t take action. She cleared her throat.

“Now, girls. You’ve come to me and made a most serious accusation against a senior member of my staff. If I believed for one moment that you were motivated by malice, I would punish you all; you would be facing expulsion from the school.”

She paused.

“Diane and Susan, neither of you witnessed any impropriety. Your testimony is that you saw your friend badly upset, and she told you about an assault that she said had been made on her. Abigail. You tell me that you have been assaulted, but there is no physical evidence of an assault having been made. Is that a fair summary of the situation?”

“Yes, Miss Carter,” they mumbled. Even Diane didn’t dare to contradict.

“I believe that all three of you are truthful girls. I can only conclude that you, Abigail, must have misunderstood an ambiguous situation. The matter must stop here. All of you understand, please, that you must say nothing about this outside this office. I will treat any slander against Mr Johnson with great severity.”

She looked at each of them in turn. One by one they dropped their eyes.

“You are dismissed.”

The three girls slunk out. As they walked down the corridor, Diane whispered, “I’m sorry, Abi. You were right. We shouldn’t have said anything.”

In her office, the Head Mistress worried for the entire morning as to what she should do.

Abigail became very quiet. As far as possible she avoided being anywhere near Johnson. She changed her private study group on the pretext that she needed to work in the library to be able to use reference books. Susan and Diane became expert at spotting when something had happened. Without questioning, they just offered support, love and encouragement.

“Are you sure you want to come on the overnight camp, Abigail?” said Susan.

“I can’t do the Ten Tors if I don’t, and then the rest of you in the Patrol would miss the event too.”

“You’re very brave,” said Susan, hugging her tightly.

“We’ll look after you,” said Diane, fiercely. “He’d jolly well better not try anything.”

They camped near the Mires.

“Don’t stray out of your tents tonight! One false step into the Mires, and it’s down you go, never to be seen again!” Johnson laughed ghoulishly and rubbed his hands.

He took Abigail with him to fetch water for the evening meal. When they returned she was shivering.

“Are you alright, Abi?”

“Yes. Just a bit cold.”

The six girls of the Patrol bedded down in two three-person tents. Susan and Diane slept in sleeping bags either side of Abigail, whose head was by the entrance to the tent. She lay there, stiff with fright.

Minutes passed. Diane fell asleep first. Susan turned over several times, but then her breathing became regular. She snored, gently but noticeably. Abigail waited a few minutes longer, and then, as quietly as she could, wriggled out of her sleeping bag. As though hypnotised she undid the tent flaps and walked into the night.

Diane stirred. Something was wrong. Her eyes opened. She felt the chill air of the moor. She saw the open flaps of the tent. Abigail was missing.

“Quick, Sue! Abi’s gone!”

Susan stretched, then sat up abruptly.

“What do you mean, gone?”

Diane pointed to the empty sleeping bag and the open tent. Susan scrambled out of her bag and started scrabbling for her trousers.

“Come on! We haven’t got time for that!”

Diane led the way outside. There was torchlight in Johnson’s tent, and noises. They could hear Abigail, sobbing, protesting.

Diane picked up a heavy stone.

The two girls ran to the tent and tore open the door. Johnson was lying on Abigail, who was struggling, weeping, trying to push him away. Her legs were spread, and Johnson, trousers around ankles, lay between them. He looked up – and Diane hit him with the stone, hard. He slumped.

There was quiet.

There was silence.

“He’s not breathing,” whispered Susan.

“You’ve killed him,” whispered Abigail.

“It’s my fault. I’ll have to take the consequences.” Diane breathed heavily as she thought of the implications. Prison, not university. Disgrace. Shame for her parents.

“One for all, and all for one.” Susan and Abigail spoke simultaneously.

“No. I can’t let you,” began Diane.

“Let’s put the body in the Mires,” said Susan.

They looked at each other.

One for all and all for one.

They hauled the body out of the tent, tidied the interior and tied back the entrance, so it would look as though Johnson had walked out.

“Lucky there’s no blood,” said Susan.

They lifted the body as best they could, and carried it to the edge of the path.

“We’ll swing it like we were giving him the bumps,” declared Susan.

The body splashed into the water about five feet from the path and started to sink immediately. The girls watched. Was the corpse going to disappear entirely? It was submerged to the waist, then to the chest, then to the neck.

And then the eyes flickered open. A look of terror flashed across Johnson’s face, and the girls recoiled. A whispered “Help me” came from his mouth. Susan seized a stone and threw it at the distorted face. There was silence once again, and then bubbles as the head went under.

“Good riddance,” said Susan.

 

 

 

Behind closed doors

This story is about 1600 words long, and will take about ten minutes to read.

Behind closed doors

Making a break for it 180220

Milly enjoyed housework, even ironing. She especially liked cooking. It was how she nurtured her husband and her daughter. The thought that she was providing what they needed was almost as good as the cuddles that she longed for so much. Still, she was luckier than some of the women she used to know, who were divorced, or never married. No man to take care of them. She looked at her rings: the engagement ring with its large sapphire set between two diamonds – “Each diamond is a whole carat,” Gideon had boasted, “You’re a lucky woman” – and the thick band of twenty-two carat gold that was her wedding ring.

She polished the dining table first, so that Gideon wouldn’t notice the smell of lavender and beeswax at dinner; he was fussy about that. She gazed at the mirror finish with satisfaction. Even Gideon would struggle to find fault, she thought.

Before going into the lounge to dust it, she trotted upstairs, and rummaged in the chest where she kept spare pillows. There, at the bottom, was a photograph of Abigail in last year’s school play. Milly’s breath came fast, and her face flushed as she took the photo into the living room.

She hesitated a moment at the door, looking at the picture currently in pride of place at the centre of the mantelpiece. It was a professional portrait of Gideon standing very tall between Abigail and Milly. She slid it to one side, and set the battered frame holding Abigail’s picture in its place. It would have to be hidden away again before Gideon returned, of course.

Over her bread and cheese lunch, she pulled out a much-folded letter from the school, an invitation for Abigail to visit Italy in the summer. They planned to rehearse a play for performance in Milan. Milly looked again at how much it would cost.

“£750,” she murmured.

She had no idea how much Gideon earned, but she thought they could probably afford to send Abi. So why had Gideon been so much against the trip?

Milly had quaked when she had rung the school and made an appointment for a meeting with the Head of Drama. She had known Gideon wouldn’t be happy.

He hadn’t been.

“You stupid woman. Of course she can’t go. She’s far too young. That teacher probably wants to take advantage of her when she’s vulnerable, and we won’t be able to do anything to stop him.”

Greatly daring, she had ventured, “Is that really likely, dear?”

Gideon’s eyes had narrowed.

“I hope you’re not questioning my judgement, Milly. You know where that leads.”

He frowned.

“We’ll have to go, of course, now you’ve made the appointment. It would be discourteous if we didn’t. But you must tell him that we’re concerned that she’s too young, and we’ve decided that she would be better not going.”

“The Head of Drama’s a lady teacher, dear.”

Gideon raised his hand. Milly flinched.

“Just do as you’re told. And try not to get tongue-tied. I know you’re not the sharpest knife in the box, but there’s no need to show us both up.”

As Milly turned the school’s letter over and over, she thought carefully about what she would say. Gideon was right; she did stumble over her words; she got all worried and flustered, and somehow what she wanted to say just wouldn’t come out. She blushed as she remembered one occasion when all she’d been able to manage was “Er…er…er.” How scathing Gideon had been! This time, she had to be clear – for Abi’s sake if not for her own.

She was thinking about Abi and the meeting all afternoon, as she washed clothes, scrubbed floors and prepared dinner. She didn’t forget to remove Abi’s photo and hide it, but before returning it to its place in the chest she kissed it and hugged it to her bosom.

“Whatever’s best for you, my darling,” she whispered, “no matter what.”

The Head of Drama was tall. Her hair was dark and cut long, with a fringe. Mid-thirties, she looked somehow anachronistic, a hippy from the sixties perhaps.

“Good evening, Mr and Mrs Sharpe. I’m Cathy Thomson, the Head of Drama. I’m glad you were able to come in to talk about Abigail. She’s so very talented! I hope she’ll be able to come on the trip – it would be so good for her.” She looked from Gideon to Milly and back again.

Milly cleared her throat. “We, that is, I, um.” She slithered to a halt, clenched her fists, and tried again.

“Could you tell us a little more about the trip, please?”

Gideon looked at Milly with hard eyes.

Cathy was only too happy to share details of the trip; it was her initiative, and she felt that Abi would benefit enormously.

“What are you…are you doing…to make sure the children are safe?”

Gideon gave a tiny nod of approval. A few more minutes, and he could draw matters to a close. The teacher would know that Abi’s absence from the course was down to her parents’ natural concern for her welfare.

Cathy carefully explained the safeguarding procedures.

“Well, that sounds fine,” said Milly. Somehow the words came out clear and positive. “I think Abigail should go, don’t you dear?”

Gideon jerked in his seat, and glowered at Milly.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he began.

“It’s not as if we can’t afford it, after all. And the safeguarding sounds fine to me.”

“You’ve no idea what you’re talking about!”

Gideon turned to Cathy.

“I’m sorry. I’m afraid Milly has let herself be carried away. We won’t be allowing Abigail on the trip. That’s settled. I’m sorry.”

Cathy stared at him, and then turned to Milly.

“Is everything alright, Mrs Sharpe?”

“Yes, yes. F…fine.” Her lower lip trembled, but she held her head high.

There was silence in the car on the way home.

Later that night, when Abigail was sound asleep, Gideon thrashed Milly. Tight-lipped with fury he struck her over and over again. Desperately she fought to stay silent. This time she was in the right; Abi should go on the trip. She wasn’t going to cry out, or beg. She bit the pillow. Her fingers clawed at the bed covers.

“Don’t you ever disobey me like that again!” snarled Gideon, eventually. He slammed the door of the spare bedroom behind him.

Eventually, stifling a groan, Milly pushed herself up from the bed. She turned on the light on the bedside table, and looked at herself. Her clothes were bloody; they’d have to be soaked straight away or they’d stain. She stripped, took them into the en-suite bathroom and dumped them in cold water. She sponged herself with warm water. It stung.

Reaction had set in. She was shaking. She swallowed two paracetamol tablets and huddled under the duvet.

She woke early next morning, and crept down to the kitchen in her dressing gown. She made a cup of tea and took it up to Gideon.

“Don’t let Abigail see you like that,” was all he said. Her wounds stung as though with acid as he watched her dress.

She cooked him breakfast, and sat with him while he ate it, and then, by seven o’clock, he had left the house.

Milly sat at the kitchen table. She felt exhausted. The door creaked.

“Mum, can I have a cup of tea, please?”

Milly stood up. Her legs buckled, and she sat down with a bump.

“Are you alright, Mum?”

As Milly slumped back in the chair, Abigail ran over to her.

“Mum!”

Milly opened her eyes with difficulty. “I’m alright, love. Just a bit under the weather.”

“I’ll make us both that cup of tea shall I, Mum?”

Abigail put a mug of tea in front of Milly. It was the mug with a picture of a giraffe on it; her favourite. She smiled, and took a sip. A few more sips and she was starting to feel stronger.

Suddenly, Abigail said, “There’s dark red marks on your blouse, Mum. What are they?” Then she leaned forward and pulled up Milly’s sleeve. There was a gash and a long purple-black bruise right up her forearm. Abigail looked up at her mother, concern and horror mixed on her face.

Milly looked back, half defiant, half relieved.

“Your dad didn’t like what I said at the school last night.”

“What?”

“Your dad hit me last night.”

“No. He can’t have! I mean, he’s Dad, he doesn’t hit people.”

Milly pointed to the bruise on her arm.

“He did that, and more on my back.”

Abigail gazed in silence at Milly. Great tears welled up.

“That’s awful!”

Milly held her close and let her weep for several minutes. Then Abigail pulled away.

“What are we going to do, Mum?”

“What can we do, dearest? This is just how things are. It’s not like this most of the time.”

“Well, I don’t think we should stay here. He shouldn’t hurt you like that.”

They stared at each. Slowly resolution crystallised between them.

“I want you to go to the same school.”

“Mum, I don’t need to if we have to go far away so he…” Abigail stumbled over the words, but pressed on, “so he can’t find us.”

“We could go and stay with my brother for a few days.”

Abigail nodded.

“Good idea. And we’ll go to the police.”

“The police?”

“Yes. Look what he’s done to you. That must be against the law.”

“Well, I suppose so, but he’s your dad, Abigail.”

“He shouldn’t have hurt you like that. It’s alright, Mum, I’ll come with you and give you moral support.”

Milly looked at her left hand. She pulled off her rings and looked at Abigail. Abigail looked back. Tentatively, tremulously, they smiled at each other, the first smiles of their new life of freedom.

“I shall sell the engagement ring,” declared Milly.

 

 

 

 

What Pegman Saw – There’s a Note

I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone with this week’s story, set in Cordoba, Argentina!

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the 360 degree view of the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code.

WPS There's a Note 171104

There’s a Note

Inspector Herrera lifted the body and winced. The young woman had driven the knife so violently into her chest that the blade emerged from her back.

“There’s a note, sir.”

The handwriting was firm, towards the end almost scoring through the paper.

“Antonio,

Don’t you remember those summer nights of laughter? When La Barra played cuarteto and we danced?

Don’t you remember how we stood tall with courage and won the respect of your parents?

Don’t you remember how we became one, body and soul?

Don’t you remember?

You have betrayed my love! And for whom? For that slut Maria!

I will not live without you, Antonio; and I curse you. Not to be impotent, and your whore barren; no, you will have children – but you will bury every one of them.

And now I die, taking the first of your bastards in my body to the grave.”

Wild Dogs

I wrote this story in response to the success of the far right in winning seats in the German Bundestag. It’s about 1000 words and will take about ten minutes to read.

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Wild Dogs

Her way to the archaeological site was blocked by a large dog, with alsatian in its recent ancestry. Its coat was unkempt. It was restless, raising its head, occasionally snarling; the snarls were, oddly, silent.

Alice was always wary of stray dogs, particularly here in the Balkans where rabies was still endemic. She crossed the road. The dog watched her as she passed.

“Good day,” the attendant at the entrance greeted her. She smiled, and her apprehension about the animal receded.

The dog was there again the following day, this time with a companion which yapped. As she passed them, the smaller dog stood up, took a pace or two in her direction, snuffled the air as though to catch and remember her scent. Alice shivered.

Her heart sank when she came out of the site that evening, and saw the two dogs. As soon as they saw her, they rose to their feet. The larger dog growled as she went past. Still, they made no move to approach her. She told herself it was silly to be frightened. “They’re only dogs, for goodness sake!”

Nevertheless, she mentioned it to the manager of the pension where she was living. He smiled.

“Don’t worry, Professor. I will have a word with the mayor tonight. He will sort out the problem.”

“Please don’t put yourself to any trouble,” exclaimed Alice. “I’m sure I’m worrying unnecessarily.”

“It is no trouble, no trouble at all.” He spread his hands, thought a moment, and then added, “Will you do me the honour of drinking a glass of ouzo on the terrace?”

They sat in the evening sun, sipped their drinks and nibbled small savoury snacks.

“I hope you don’t mind my speaking,” began Spiros, “but I feel I need to give you a word of advice.”

Alice concealed a grin. “I shall be most grateful,” she said.

“I read your letter in the daily newspaper – you write very good Greek, such good Greek, it’s better than mine – but your message might have been misunderstood. It’s a very sensitive time.”

“You mean with Turkey making warlike noises over Cyprus again?”

“Well, yes, partly that.”

He hesitated, and Alice interrupted, “I don’t see how my letter causes offence. I don’t mention Cyprus. I’m merely saying that it is now more important than ever that opposite sides of the political debate listen and try to understand one another.”

“That is not a message that the generals want to hear. To them, if you give anything less than enthusiastic support they look on it as opposition. And you said that Greece should stay in the European Union.”

“Well, so it should! It’s madness to leave!”

“Ssh!” Spiros looked so upset that Alice fell silent.

“Well, I can see what you’re saying,” she agreed at last, and the two of them sat quietly for a few moments.

“This view is so beautiful,” said Alice. “I love Greece – and the Greeks.”

The sun setting behind the mountain turned her grey hair gold, as it had been in her youth.

Spiros gazed at her, this strange foreigner, who spoke Greek almost like a native, who was so clever, so learned and yet so naïve.

“I will walk to the site with you tomorrow, and make sure everything is okay.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that.”

Talk at the taverna that evening was all about Cyprus. Would there be war? One boy had received his call-up papers that day. His family were celebrating, proud of him. The town’s priest sat at the table near the entrance.

“Love of country is the highest virtue,” he intoned, over and over again. The townsfolk nodded.

“Greece for the Greeks,” said one. There was a cheer.

“Cyprus for the Greeks!” said another. The cheer was louder.

Alice sat with friends, eating and thinking. Perhaps she should take a break, go back to the UK for a few weeks? She’d been working on the site without a break for six months, after all. Perhaps Spiros was right; her lack of sympathy for the regime might be costly. They might send her out of the country for good.

Next day, Spiros was as good as his word. In the morning he walked the mile to the site with Alice. There were no dogs.

“The mayor worked fast! Thank you, Spiros. I’m fine now.”

Safely on the site, Alice thought no more about a holiday. The present phase of the study would be complete in five or six weeks. Time enough to think about holidays then.

She worked late that night, and the sun had set. She toyed with the idea of a taxi, but there were street lights, and she’d probably have to wait thirty minutes before the driver arrived.

She walked briskly, thinking of the work they’d done today, planning the tasks for tomorrow. The street lights were dim and widely spaced. It was only when you were close to one that its light hid the stars. Between them the sky was like velvet, decorated with a thousand sparkling points of light.

There was growl behind her. She quickened her pace.

“It’s a dog. That’s all.”

The pointed muzzle of an Alsatian emerged from a gap in the fence beside her, as the stray pushed its way into her path. It snarled; she heard the sound very clearly this time. Her breath came quickly, and her heart pounded.

“Go away!” She spoke with as much firmness as she could.

The dog squatted on its haunches and growled. Alice felt in her handbag for her mobile phone. Who should she ring? Spiros would probably be quickest – but only if he answered.

As she dialled, the dog howled. There were answering howls from behind her. Then the dog sprang, knocking the phone from her hand.

Alice barged past it, and ran, ran as she hadn’t run since she was a teenager. And when running was no longer any use, she fought…