Clear Wash City Books
by Tim Waters
All material on this website © Tim Waters. No part of any text or books displayed here may be used or reproduced without written permission, except in the case of quotations for articles and reviews or educational work within schools, colleges or universities.
The First Trilogy
Hi from Tim
Welcome to my website. I’m sure you’ll find and enjoy some excellent reading here. Right now I’m concentrating on my fiction stories, the Clear Wash City books, the first of which is finished and ready for a good read.
I have also begun the stories for books two and three. You can see some chapters and outlines below to wet your appetite. If you have any comments to make then please use the form at the bottom of this page to contact me, I’d love to have your thoughts.
Perhaps you’ve not read any of my books before and don’t know what to think before purchasing. Well that’s understandable. So below are some chapter samples from my first and second books as well as some reviews and recommendations. You can also get a good read of part of my first book on the Amazon website. Enjoy.
…as a fiction author
I love to create interesting characters who are larger than life and enjoy seeing their personalities dictate where the storyline goes. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I love to use words to paint pictures of the book’s world in the reader’s mind by adding great descriptions, illustrating clearly the surrounding sights, sounds and smells. At the same time I make every paragraph as tight as possible so that the story flows well, making it an easy read. I also like to weave secondary meanings into the story’s text (a little like C.S.Lewis did if you understand his writings) some of them comic and others serious. These attentions to detail are that which mark my style and purpose as a writer.
As a young child my favourite stories were those written by Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis and later, as I entered my teenage years, by J.R.R.Tolkien. I also grew up on the comedy of Laurel and Hardy, the Britsh sitcom Dad’s Army and the 1970’s British comedy trio The Goodies. Somewhere between all of these, along with other sources, are the many influences by which I have written my children’s summer club drama scripts and from them this first book. I want all of my fiction work to be available to all of the family so that each age group can appreciate my daft and hopefully interesting stories at their own level.
I strive to write in such a way that each individual can take something unique away with them from their read and hope that people can begin to pick up the secondary meanings in my text, whether a comic reference or a serious point made. It has taken over ten years for me to discover my unique writing style and The Waterworks of Clear Wash City book represents my “growing up” over that period. I hope that my next books will take a little less time to write – in fact, as I am currently writing this text, the first five chapters of “The Fall of Clear Wash City” are already there – just after couple of months work. Phew!
…as a person
I enjoy being a husband and a dad. I like watching Sci-Fi adventure movies, playing the guitar, watching films too young for my age and dining out at ‘all you can eat buffets.’ I’m not a very practical person, D.I.Y. has to be a very simple job for me to do properly. The last time I tried plumbing for myself I ended up calling out the plumber to fix what I’d just tried to do. A part from this flaw in my personality I’m not too difficult to live with, and I remind my wife of this on a regular basis.
My chosen author name is Tim Waters, though my name is actually Timothy. If you meet me, however, please call me Tim as I normally only get called Timothy when I’m in trouble with my wife and family. I really hope you like my first books and also look forward to creating new reads for you as and when I can.
Have you ever desperately wanted a wash? I don’t mean just felt a little icky and in need of a bath or a quick scrub up over the bathroom sink! I mean have you ever smelt so bad, felt so gunky, been so sweaty and messy from the top of your head to the tip of your toes that you’ve yearned to rub even the smallest amount of cleansing cream onto your stained and grimy skin?
What would you do if it was against the law to have a wash and be clean? If just the smallest amount of scrubbing would get you into such trouble that you could lose your job, your home, your friends, your family and even your life. What would you be prepared to do? What risks would you take? To what lengths would you go, just so that you could feel spotless again?
The people of Clear Wash City have tried for years to get washed in the most strange and bizarre ways without the city authorities finding out. Their options, however, have now all but run out. This story follows the only course of action that’s left to them, a covert operation by a small gang of faithful rebels to enter the old waterworks in an attempt to get it working again.
Everything is stacked against them, secret police, informers, electronic sniffer devices, execution flusher machines, ancient old buildings falling down around them and floods that can sweep them away. Our unlikely heroes find their friendship key to everything. They learn that salvation often lies in the most unexpected deed and that never giving up is always the route to freedom, even when staring failure in the face!
Here are some reviews of my book.
Review 1 - Amazon
“I was captivated by this book from the first chapter! A very clever, funny and brilliant portrayal of the age old battle of Good vs Evil (literally!). Appropriate for children and adults, the book depicts the steampunk genre perfectly. I loved the creativity, careful thought and attention to detail that have gone into bringing this world and its characters to life. The descriptive writing opens up your imagination to the surroundings, sounds and smells – could make an excellent film! Would highly recommend this fascinating book.”
"The author has created an original story full of gentle humour that readers, other than its target audience, would enjoy. His writing flows, the dialogue is realistic and his characters are delightfully batty."
Review 3 - Amazon
“Brilliantly descriptive and imaginative, amusing too ! Made me want to keep turning the pages to find out how things ended. A really good read.”
Review 4 - Amazon
Wow! This book is absolutely amazing !
I have been reading this book to our children, aged up to 18. Although I confess we started slowly, we found that the more we read, the more captivated we became. We are all desperate for the sequel and LONG to see it made into a film as it would be spectacular.
We have found "The Waterworks of Clear Wash City" INCREDIBLY funny, and I often had to stop reading so that we could all roll over laughing!
The story is completely unique and to start with, was a little slow due to our 'suspension of disbelief'. However, as one gets to the core of the story, one finds the book rather difficult to put down. The book seems somewhat 'ageless' as it appealed to all the family, who appreciated it on different levels of understanding.
Tim Waters is truly a genius of a novelist and, without wanting to give the plot away, all our family can unanimously say is: "Read this Book: You won't regret it"!
"An engaging start to what promises to be a clever story. Unique fascinating characters. Awesome world building. Good descriptions."
Review 6 - Amazon
“The style in which this story is written is engaging and entertaining. I was gripped by it from the start, and thoroughly enjoyed the twists and turns. The outcome was not at all as I expected, which increased the pleasure. This is clearly aimed at children; mine have grown up and moved out, but I would have loved to have read a few pages with them each night at bedtime. Having said that the book was aimed at children, I couldn't put the book down, and read it in a day, so no worries about being bored. I understand that there is another book in the pipeline, and I am looking forward to its release. I can highly recommend this book; it is an excellent original story well told, a regular page-turner.”
“I smiled at all of your humour in the story. Made me smile a lot."
"You use great descriptions for this story. It's well-crafted and readable."
Review 9 - Amazon
“This book is an awesome read! Full of adventure with characters that become to feel like family. Exquisite descriptions of settings and characters make the story come alive. The struggle between good and evil, which is a constant throughout the novel, keeps the reader guessing right to the very end. Lady Pluggat (heroine) was a favourite of mine. I definitely recommend it. Enjoy!”
Review 10 - Amazon
“I love this story. It has lots of detail, so you can just picture exactly what it's like.”
Review 11 - Amazon
“This is a book which can be enjoyed by anyone. It is a great story which children will enjoy. Younger children will enjoy the basic adventure story and older ones the use of many different adjectives describing the actions and feelings of the characters. There are several moral themes running through the book and 'good' and 'bad' characters which keep the action flowing. The story will be equally appealing to boys and girls.
Having not read anything by this author before I wondered what it would be like but was not disappointed. I look forward to further stories.”
Review 12 - Amazon
“A novel solution for tyranny. The likes of Hitler, Mussolini et - al , all meet their Waterloo. The authors confidence grows as he delivers a flushing success . A good omen for the future.”
"Hello Tim. Your book is incredibly imaginative and it made me feel as if I was a little kid again and this is a great thing.”
“Certainly one of the most original stories I've come across and that's no small thing."
Across what looked like an early evening sky, multiple plumes of billowing smoke saturated the air with a nasty smelling and discoloured smog. These gathering clouds of airy filth continually ascended as columns of choking death, unfurling their foul and grimy stench into the heavens. Up, up it all floated, swallowing all that stood in its path and laying claim to the sky. It was like watching the encroachment of a company of troops on parade, a marching detachment, who trudged through the firmament, stamping its mark in the atmosphere and leaving behind a trail of muddy tracks. This dirty military machine had one objective, to eat away at the blue expanse, block out the sun, and so establish a canopy of darkness over the city.
This attempt at blockading the last rays of the day’s sunlight would have no doubt been a quick and successful campaign, if the smoke had not suddenly been met, swept up, and carried off by a persistent north-westerly breeze. This blustery wind, offended by the foul reeking invasion, wafted and drove the brown cloudy effluences here and there, around and above the city rooftops. It then, with a final exhale that emptied its lungs, blew and propelled the polluted stench beyond the city walls; out into the expanse of the great beyond, the desert, where it finally dissipated. Over and over this process repeated. The air would fill with smoke until it choked, then be rescued and made clean once more by the breeze - that is pending the moment when the wind itself ran out of breath and took time to inhale. In those moments of windless calm, the polluting would start all over again.
Tall blackened lanterns, dotted throughout the great metropolis, were the main culprits who fed the air with this gloomy contamination. Burning their smoky red haze into the moist and sweaty air, they filled the atmosphere with a powdery soot that tasted of charcoaled fine grit. This relentless leakage of murky and misty vapour contributed greatly to the quickly darkening sky, making the sunset dusk a little more sinister than usual. It was as if a dark curtain was being drawn at the end of a long day and the casting of this early shadow spoke prophetically of the events to come. Each cluster of toxic gas, exhaled by the numerous lanterns, was saturated with the heavy and overpowering smell of phosphorus, irritating the nose, the eyes and back of the throat. This odour was strangely mixed, however, with the sweet-scented aroma of homemade rum punch, being served from large, elevated bathtubs on the edge of a great market square. The crowds that had assembled there were, as usual, in more than a drunken stupor. Loud whistles, cheers and jeers accompanied the raucous noise of their laughter and chatter.
"Citizens of Clear Wash City!” bellowed a loud voice. “We are overjoyed at your jovial presence here tonight and look forward to an evening of fun, frolicking and high adventure.”
The greeting came from a set of aged and rusty loudspeakers, attached to a begrimed and burnt-out clock tower which belonged to a grand, marbled palace; its whitewashed walls and high stately rooms towered into the evening sky imposing a majestic and noble presence. In front of the palace was the large cobbled marketplace into which a vast and euphoric crowd had assembled. Surrounding them were the many walls, streets and lofty buildings that together made up the jigsaw of what was once a great city. A vast and dirty capital, its crumbling houses, tired assembly halls and closed factories told the story of a prosperous time long gone.
“Are we ready?” cried the megaphoned voice, and the crowd responded with a cheer.
“And to any stragglers out there who’ve not yet arrived – here’s a special reminder as to why you should come to the highlight of our summer festivities.”
The voice droned on and on, talking about the immensity and grandeur of the event. Its sound echoed and bounced through the city’s maze of weary streets, drowsy lanes and derelict avenues. The enthusiastic invitation to the forthcoming party felt quite hollow and out of place. For even though the voice knocked on a multitude of unopened doors, behind each one was nothing but a worn out building or an empty home. Music finally flooded the air as the announcer finished off his introduction to what he called the evening’s ‘great theatrical performance’ and launched into announcing the main event.
“The authorities of Clear Wash City proudly present for your delight and blissful entertainment the next pitiful, pathetic and wretched victim who, through his own deplorable stupidity, will now give us all great pleasure by having to endure the techno-magical, techno-tragical, ‘Free Flowing Foamy Flusher Machine’! We welcome you to feast your eyes upon this most marvellous event and to inhale the joy of our soapsud extravaganza.”
A roar of applause rang out from the people whilst a green uniformed brass band began to play a happy, sprightly tune.
“And now,” continued the voice, “I give you your host for this evening, the one and only Mr Erepsin Ville of Clear Wash City. I give you Mr E!”
From somewhere behind the magnificent palace vast emissions of hissing steam suddenly erupted like an explosion of dense fog. The dank, mushrooming vapour quickly engulfed the palace building and everything in its immediate vicinity. It drifted out over the streets nearby, right across the market square, and settled upon the on-looking crowd, hanging in the air like a moist, watery shroud. The people jostled with each other, trying to brush aside the white mist whilst peering intently through the smog to see what would happen next. From the epicentre of the cloud bomb an object inflated - just like the expansion of a large balloon or a ship’s sails. Whatever it was, it was hefty and huge. The people fell silent, standing in awe and holding their breath. Mechanical grinding sounds followed, as if trying to start a motor, and then more spurts of bulbous gas discharged into the wet haze. Engines roared, gears cranked and slowly, out of the cloud, a great vessel emerged.
Similar in shape and size to that of a sailing ship’s keel, its vast, streamlined body glided gracefully through the air. Attached to the ship’s underside were three noisy propeller devices that kept it afloat; helped by an elongated hot air balloon from which the craft was suspended. Gradually gaining momentum, it tacked from side to side following its pointed nose like a pirate boat on the prowl. Out towards the crowd it sailed, taking a course that curved round the edge of the palace building. Then, once en route for the market square, it surged straight ahead. With columns of smoke continually erupting from its flanks, the ship’s propeller engines wound themselves up and the mighty craft rose into the air. The crowd of onlookers shrank backwards, hands over their ears, as the ship soared above their heads.
Cheers, whistles, whoops and much applause accompanied the ship’s ascent. Up and up, it zoomed, constantly rising skywards and navigating its way through the invisible airwaves. After reaching a great altitude the magnificent boat turned, pointed due west, blew out a blaze of fire from its engines and sailed out towards the setting sun. The crowd screamed with pleasure as the vessel sped away from them at a tremendous velocity, racing across the skyline of the heavens and leaving streaks of steam in its wake.
At the ship’s bow stood a lone, solitary man; his slight and slender frame now silhouetted against the backdrop of the twilight sky. Placing his hands firmly on his hips and bulging his chest with pride, he rode out across the firmament like a conquering captain of the high seas. Gusts of the airstream blustered about him, running its invisible fingers through his long milk-chocolate hair. Enjoying this caress, he closed his eyes, held his head back and let the breeze continue its loving touches.
Once it reached the outskirts of the city the mighty vessel gracefully tilted on its axis to make a full turn before lunging back towards the market square, navigating its way along a weaving and winding path. Then, without warning, the craft’s engines turned themselves off and fell silent. The ship glided under its own momentum and then, with a hiss of steam from its front to break its forward motion, it slowed to a gentle, quiet halt. All was still and a hush came over the spectators, who waited below in expectation.
The young man on the ship’s bow took hold of a steel cable (one end of which was secured via a locked metal wheel to the ship’s mast) and ceremoniously attached the other end to a belt round his waist. Stepping up onto the ship’s cathead he pulled some eye-goggles from his back pocket and put them on. Then, with his arms stretched out in a “v” shape above him, he leant further and further over the ship’s side. Dangling above the void he could see the crowd filling the market square below. A rush of delight and merriment went through the people as their hero came into view. Bellowing and shouting, they hollered with rapturous glee their dissolute enjoyment at the man’s recklessness (and even possible demise). Their corporate throng of noise rang out in wave upon wave of cheer and applause.
Leaning further still, until the wire behind him was rigid and taut, the man wavered over the gap and let the sound of the pleasure-seeking mob rise to a crescendo of gratification. For a few more seconds he just let himself sway in the nothingness, feeling the wind in his face and an inescapable call to his oncoming glory. His veins and heart pumped with bliss whilst his ears rang with the people’s praise. Then, wishing to swim right down into it all, he flipped a switch on his belt that remotely unlocked the wheel on the ship’s mast and, with the cable now running free, raised himself up onto his tiptoes, tipped his head backwards and dropped overboard. Down, down, down he fell, like a fallen angel plummeting to the earth. The musty smells of the city’s foul air rushed about him as he tumbled through the atmosphere; a moment of exhilaration. Out of control. No boundaries. Free-fall.
At the same time that the man began his sudden descent, the ship from which he jumped opened up a series of small holes along its sides. A string of forty-eight cannons poked their noses through and sent out a succession of booms and bangs. Each explosion propelled a small object which travelled for a few seconds and then, BOOM! detonated into a mini firework display. The crowds stared in wonder as they looked up at their champion. It took their breath away to see him dropping out of the sky to the backdrop of smoke, fire and awesome fizzing colours.
Using the remote device on his belt (which controlled the wheel back on the ship to which his cable was attached) the man finally altered the speed of his decent to something more steady and at the same time adopted the immortal pose of a superhero flying in mid-air. The devoted multitude cheered with delight, raising their half-filled punch glasses to toast their host’s arrival. Finally the figure on the wire slowed to a halt above a large, wooden stage, situated in front of the assembled crowd. Then Mr E, as he was called, took hold of the cable and unhooked himself, dropping gracefully onto the timber platform. He stepped forward a few paces and bowed graciously to warmly greet his audience. A tall, skinny gentleman, he was bony faced and lean. Dressed in pinstriped trousers, a jet-black shirt, a waistcoat and admiral jacket, he handed his goggles to an assistant and took from her an elegant top hat and dazzling silver cane. Swaggering up to a nearby standing microphone he just stood there, arms stretched out and hat and cane held aloft, receiving everyone’s rapturous applause. Like a national celebrity he remained motionless, a statue, simply nodding his head with a wry smile and lapping up every succulent moment.
“My, my, my,” he called into the microphone, “is this not a devious, deceitful, dastardly and defiant crowd of revellers I see before me? How delicious!”
Great laughter, howls, hoots and hollers came from the throng who pushed and shoved themselves forward, wanting to get a better look at Mr E; only held back by a small fence and a row of nervous armed guards who stood poised, tense and ready for action.
“My most noble and loyal subjects,” called Mr E again. “It’s flushing time!”
The crowd went wild with excitement.
“Let us now savour the moment,” he continued, “as we deal with a sham of a man who has proved himself a liar, cheat, swindler, fraudster, rogue and charlatan. A twisted and warped individual, he has loved nothing but the wages of self-pleasure, decadent amusement and egotistical gratification. He is a man full of his own imaginary magnitude and who now, as you shall shortly see, amounts to nothing more than a pathetic, blundering wimp. So let us indulge our appetites by beholding our lawbreaker who stands accused and condemned. Ladies and gentlemen I give you, the once so wise and so noble, Sir Frederick James III.”
Mr E pointed his cane towards the ground in front of the stage.
“Ivan,” called Mr E, “music!”
Towards the back of the wooden stage stood a large, steam-powered church organ and at it sat a short, plump, balding figure; dressed in a bulging black leather jacket. On his head he wore (slightly tilted on one side) an elongated top hat which, I might add, enlarged the height of his not so tall frame. His short, stubby fingers ran up and down the organ’s keys blasting out a terrible din. Then, as Ivan’s music soared to a dramatic crescendo, the ground in front of the stage slowly opened up to reveal a deep and gaping, dark pit. From somewhere inside that yawning hole the metallic noises of clunk, clank, clatter, clatter, clatter and clink, clunk, clank, clunk resonated across the market square. Cogs turned, chains rattled and out of the ground emerged a large, rusty, cast iron machine.
The bizarre, metallic contraption that came into sight looked like an enormous, corroded metal box with a polished, domed lid. Rising out of its top and sides were various pistons, pipes and rubber tubes sprouting in all directions like the hairdo of a mad professor; each of which juddered and shuddered as pressurised steam whizzed its way through them, sending high-pitched shrieks into the air. Across its front sat a large glass pane, through which lots of frothy, bubbly water could be seen churning over and over, like the insides of a giant industrial washing machine. This window was surrounded by numerous buttons that continually flashed on and off in a bright display of twirling colours. At the foot of the machine were several large levers, pedals and switches. All around the machine’s base were small interlocking wheels that turned in rhythmic unison. Round and round and round they went as the machine rose out of the ground.
To the left of the machine stood a small room made from pure crystal glass; very expensive and obviously made by a master craftsman of some kind. It shone somehow, radiating an inner light that brightly illuminated its surroundings. Sticking out of the glass cubicle’s top was another large pipe which bent back and re-joined itself onto the rusty machine’s lid. Inside the glass room stood a sad, lonely figure - his head bowed low and his hands hanging limp at his sides. Taking several quick intakes of breath, to give himself some composure and strength, (for nerves clung to every part of his trembling body, making even standing difficult) he slowly lifted up his head to look out at the heckling crowd. A weak smile appeared on his pale, pastel-shaded face to try to defy the mob of onlookers - showing them that all was well. At the same time, however, his legs wobbled and quivered with fright.
As soon as the crowd caught sight of Sir Frederick the throng of onlookers jeered, booed and hissed. Almost as one man they hurled their glasses of rum punch high into the air and within moments they came raining down, crack, smack, crash and smash; a sudden hailstorm, a plunging tidal wave of glass clattering and shattering onto and around the glass room. Together they created a carpet of splintered shards across the market square’s cobbled floor. The machine finally stopped rising and sat humming its dull, melodic tune. Mr E gently raised his hat to welcome his victim. This gesture was accompanied by a broad cheesy grin across his amused face. He giggled and chuckled to himself. His chuckle then turned into a chortle and his chortle into a hearty laugh - which grew until it boomed into a loud flood of cheer, doubling him over with absolute hilarity.
“Ha!” he cried, “Got you at last!”
Mr E leaned forward on his cane and, through a blue tinted eyeglass which popped down from somewhere in his top hat, peered at Sir Frederick.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “What is this we see before us? Have we ever seen in our midst such a pathetic and pitiful picture of despondent lonesomeness? And all this from a man who has portrayed himself as a proud pillar of promised freedom. Clearly you can see that today he is nothing of the sort; just a short-lived fallacy, a cloudy, hollow delusion to the minds of the weak-willed and feeble. Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to crown this most delicious and juicy moment that we find ourselves sharing today and to rename this ruffian and rebellious turncoat. Ladies and gentlemen I give you ‘Sir Frederick the Fainthearted’!”
“Frederick the Fainthearted,” the crowd jeered back.
“You – you - you won’t get away with this,” stammered the man from inside the glass room, his lips trembling with fright. “I’m telling you. This is not the end you know. You can’t stop - stop all of us. We’ll get you in the end!”
Mr E just continued to laugh as his merriment overflowed into a little dance which he jigged across the stage.
“And now!” cried Mr E again through the city loud speakers, “Let us commence with our little ceremony of delights to cheer our hearts at the end of this bright and hot summer’s day.”
With those words he grabbed the microphone, leapt off the stage and positioned himself next to the glass room. Pointing his finger at Sir Frederick inside he cried, “This man has chosen a crooked path, a warped and perverted way that is full of shame, deceit and wayward self-gain. He has preyed upon the imaginary and delusionary needs of others, leading them on to his own advantage. This sham of a man, this hoaxer, this dishonest snake of a friend; an innocent dove he at first appeared to us but what a viper we have found him to be!”
Pulling a sheet of paper from his inside waistcoat pocket, Mr E exchanged with Ivan his hat for a judge’s wig and relaxed into a large oak chair provided by a couple of the guards. After ceremoniously setting the wig upon his head, he held the paper aloft and read.
“My most noble and loyal subjects who are gathered here today, let me recount for you just some of the long list of offences committed by this crook. Sir Frederick James you have:
1) Broken law 1447 section B - ‘collecting rainwater without a permit.’
2) Broken law 19622 - ‘conspiring to sell rainwater through an underground, unofficial trade route to weak-willed, disobedient inhabitants of this city.’
3) Broken law 44792 by seeking to guide others into ‘washing without proper authority.’
4) Broken law 352 version 14c by ‘creating a kind of soap’, made from cow’s milk and pondweed, which could be used for ‘washing.’
5) Broken law 6792 by not having upon yourself the ‘required lotion smells provided by the state’.
6) Above all things you have finally sealed your fate by breaking law 1579-e in conjunction with law 62274, as you have used the banned substance called ‘toothpaste’ and applied it to your teeth using a common clothes brush. Not only have you used the aforesaid brush and paste in this way, but you have also persistently tried to clean your teeth on strictly ‘non-brushing’ days of the week.
For these and other serious crimes which are too many to be listed here, you are today to endure the Free Flowing Foamy Flusher machine, as everyone can now see.”
The crowd reacted with great hollers and howls of laughter or jeers of displeasure as each crime was read out. Then, “Flush, flush, flush, flush, flush, flush, flush,” they all began to chant.
An elated Mr E got up from his judge’s seat and handed his paper to Ivan. Walking over to stand near Sir Frederick, he made a show of reaching for a large set of keys that dangled from his belt. Slotting one of them into a keyhole in the Flusher machine’s front, he rotated it twice and placed his thumb and index finger on either side of a large dial, ready to give it a twist. Then, turning to face the crowd he cried,
“It’s time to say goodbye. Goodbye to a betrayer of the state. Goodbye to a false friend. We shall not miss him and we shall not regret what we most nobly now do. Let us cleanse this city of all that is vulgar and wayward. Let us rid ourselves of disloyalty, dishonesty and distrust. Let us bring our citizens to a new place of openness and uprightness by purging from amongst us those who would be like this betrayer and double-dealer. Let us be bold, bright and brave and finish the job by sending him on his way!”
With these words he twirled the dial between his fingers, pulled down two levers and the machine at once began to tremble and shake. Its inner engines stirred themselves into life. The delighted, pleasurable uproar of the people rose high into the sky as the lights across the machine’s front beamed brightly. With a grinding, a hissing and a deep mechanical cough, cough, cough, its inner workings jolted together and finally formed a rhythmic tune. Whoop, whoop, whoop, an alarm shrieked as water bubbled up from beneath Sir Frederick’s feet and the room gradually started to fill with water. The small wheels on the outside of the machine whizzed round at a tremendous speed. First one way they went and then the other, back and forth for nearly half a minute, until they all abruptly stopped. Then, from a speaker built into the side of the Flusher machine, came a deep electronic voice.
“Flushing traveller, prepare for new destination. Direction downwards, lowest level and out,” said the machine. “Have a nice trip.”
“Whoooooooooopee,” shouted the crowd as one voice together, and then laughed. This was clearly something that they had all done on many an occasion and were quite adept at making the noise simultaneously and in joint harmony.
Sir Frederick turned deathly pale as he placed his sweaty, sticky hands flat against the cold glass walls of the room to brace himself. With desperation etched across his face, he looked out into the assembled horde, his eyes anxiously scanning this way and that, searching for any comfort and compassion. Amongst the people he could see, here and there, some onlookers who were not happy with what they were watching. They were just individuals dotted throughout the mob who stood quietly observing the events as they unfolded before them. His gaze finally rested on a very well-to-do looking lady who stood at the edge of the great assembly. Tall and elegant, she raised her head and returned his stare with a look of gentle, kind-hearted pity. She briefly placed her fingers on her lips and gestured with her hand as if to almost, but not quite, blow him a kiss goodbye.
“Goodbye M’lady,” said Sir Frederick, under his breath.
“Goodbye,” she mouthed back to him.
Gaining some strength from this brief encounter, Sir Frederick turned to face Mr E.
“We’ll get you for this!” he shouted. “I tell you Mr Erepsin Ville, you’ll be standing where I am one day. May the heavens above bless the day when we have our just reward and everything you’ve done to us is paid back double into your own lap.”
“Oh, how delicious!” responded Mr E. “I love it when they go down fighting. Doesn’t it make our little event so much more gratifying?” he said, looking out at the crowd who replied with more taunts and laughter.
“We’ll get you for this!” shouted Sir Frederick again, banging his fists on the sides of the glass room - but the clanking of the cogs and the grinding, clunking mechanical melody of the machine had already begun. The small glass room slowly began to turn round and round and round and round. Clunk, went another cog, clunk, clank and then clunk again, taking the room into a spin. Faster and faster it went, speeding up with every turn. From the glass room’s ceiling the large pipe poured down bubbling soapsuds and from holes in the floor the water now gushed and spouted upwards, causing Sir Frederick to lose his footing. Soon the small room was spinning and humming at high speed with a whirlpool of water inside. Faster and faster it went, gathering speed with every turn. Somewhere between the splashing water and the soapsuds, parts of Sir Frederick could still be seen; every now and then an arm or leg would briefly appear against the glass walls before vanishing amongst the frothy bubbles.
“Help!” he shouted, but no one responded to his cry.
The machine whizzed and whirled the little room until the high pitched sound of its spin echoed across the market square, bouncing off the walls and buildings in the city. Mr E stood with his head up, eyes tightly closed and his arms spread out towards the sky. He took in every moment, every second of the event with sheer, unadulterated pleasure. Finally he opened his eyes, cleared his throat, and held his cane aloft like a conductor’s baton. Beginning to conduct the crowd they all chanted together:
“Round and round and round we go,
Faster and faster the water does flow.
It gushes and froths with pure delight,
It swishes and sloshes till flushing is right!”
Mr E skipped over to the end of the flusher machine and, taking hold of a large chain that dangled from the top pipe, swung on it with all his weight. There was a heavy clunk followed by a great gurgling noise which echoed through the air, just like a giant plug had been pulled from a bath. Then a swilling, a swirling and a great sluuuuuuurrrrrp; the descending water gurgled and the glass cubicle emptied itself, flushing everything inside away. The glass room decelerated and then just sat there, very clean and very empty.
“And off Sir Frederick goes!” cried Mr E.
The crowd broke out into rapturous applause as Mr E removed his judge’s wig and threw it into the throng.
“Well that was a good one,” he added. “Loads of bubbles that time don’t you think?”
“So we say goodbye to our dear friend,” he continued, taking his key out of the machine. He received back his top hat and carefully placed it onto his head (and at the same time, I might add, used the shiny walls of the glass room like a mirror to admire his reflection). “We’re not missing you already - Sir Freddy!” he said. “Bye, bye now, bye, bye. Be good and say hello to that dear brother of yours for us, won’t you?”
Ivan unlocked the door of the glass cubicle and briefly peered down the plughole to make sure that Sir Frederick was gone. Then he pulled a couple of levers and twirled some dials on the Free Flowing Foamy Flusher’s front panel and the machine descended again into the ground from which it had come.
“Now that’s what I call entertainment!” cried Mr E, who then took a bow, now that his job was completed.
The crowd responded with cheers whilst Mr E sauntered and half danced back up the steps of the wooden stage, dragging the microphone behind him. Then appeared a sudden change over his demeanour and his maddened eyes went dark with rage.
“And let that be a lesson to you all,” he shouted into the microphone. “No one, absolutely no one, is allowed to have a wash in my city and anyone caught by the sniffer squads not smelling of the said authorised odours will follow where you see this most noble gentleman has gone today. Let this be an example to any of you simpletons who think that you can get away with doing the same. My laws in this time of water scarcity are the highest moral wall of defence against the foes of unfairness, prejudice and injustice. Anyone breaking them will end up as Sir Frederick today. Now be off with you, I don’t want to see any more of you until tomorrow!”
And with those final words the countdown to the night-time curfew began. Police balloons quickly ascended into the sky and the heavens were once again filled with their droning presence. With searchlight beams dancing around them, the crowd dispersed, shuffling out to leave the market square empty and bare.
Some went off that evening happy and amused, whilst others stole their way home, quickly seeking refuge from the event. The posh lady stood at the edge of the square and watched everyone leave. Dressed in a long expensive coat and a wide brimmed hat, with a half net veil dropped across her powdered face, she looked a picture of noble propriety. Finally, as if to acknowledge that the event she had witnessed was finally done and gone, she let out a deep sigh; lines of pain etched across her noble brow. She turned to talk to a scruffy fellow who stood beside her.
“Come on Scrub,” she said. “It’s time for us to go to our homes.”
“Yes M’lady,” replied the shabby companion.
She escorted the young man out of the square and together they made their way up towards where he lived.
“M’lady?” said Scrub, as they walked along.
“Yes,” she replied, in a tired tone.
“Where did Mr E get his Flusher machine from?” he enquired. “And why does it talk about ‘going down’ when it gets ready to flush?”
“I don’t know where the machine came from,” replied the lady. “He says he made it himself a long time ago but I don’t believe that for one moment. In my view he doesn’t have the intelligence or technology to put together such a contraption.”
“Oh,” said Scrub, a little surprised. “Anyway, why does the machine talk when it’s about to flush someone?” he added, seeing that his second question had not been answered.
“Now please Scrub,” she said, a little impatiently. “I’ve really had enough of today and Sir Frederick was…” she suddenly stood still without finishing her reply. Then, after taking a moment to compose herself, walked on in silence with Scrub trying to keep up with her now quicker walking pace.
“Well at least he’s clean now,” said Scrub, carrying on the conversation and seeking to console his companion. “Sir Frederick, I mean. He’s clean and isn’t dirty is he, not like the rest of us.”
The elegant lady briefly scowled at Scrub but quickly replaced it with a calm and gentle countenance.
“Just because we can’t wash doesn’t mean we can’t be clean,” she replied. “And just because some people use water on the outside, doesn’t mean that they’re clean on the inside.”
Scrub thought about this, glancing up at her face. Beneath her veil he could see a layer of makeup that was applied so thickly it was almost like tribal war paint. Still a little confused, he thought it best not to continue their little chat and so decided to keep quiet.
After dropping Scrub off at his house, the lady walked on through the city streets. Different people acknowledged her presence as she went with greetings or gestures that honoured her rank as a lady of the realm. She visited several people that evening, not staying long at anyone’s door and refusing to go in, preferring to briefly chat on each doorstep. She enquired after the welfare of everyone that she called on and gave assurances to them that solutions would be found to any problems they had.
Eventually she found herself just wandering alone through the city streets, her heart sinking to the depths of her soul – feeling keenly the loss of her friend. Her purposeful walk had gradually turned into a tiresome meander, aimless and pointless. Her legs kept moving but her heart and mind had drifted into a numb nothingness that did not care where she was or where she was going. Turning here and there, as the whim of the moment took her, she went up and down flights of stairs, through market squares, across small bridges that spanned dried up canals, down cobbled alleys and along winding roads. Briefly sitting on a park bench she momentarily closed her eyes, but couldn’t shake off the images of Sir Frederick’s demise and so moved on.
She finally entered a small disused orchard, full of thirsty and gnarled apple trees. No fruit and no promise of any, she ran her fingers over the dry, crisp bark of each tree as she wandered between them. There was something reassuring and comforting about their presence despite their obvious stress from drought. It was just nice to be surrounded by living things rather than the hard stone of the city walls and the harsh cobbled ground under her feet; to hear something different from the droning din that the numerous vending machines made which were dotted throughout the city, delivering useless goods to the people.
Sitting down with her back resting against one of the wilting trees, she took off her hat and relaxed the back of her head on its trunk. Her mind and heart spun dizzily from the evening’s events and, wanting some solace, she looked up at the canopy above. Gazing at the mass of twisted, knotted branches, she set her will to imagine them transformed. Branch by branch and twig by twig, she chose to see them not as tired and dry, but as beautiful, in blossom and fragrant with life. She descended further into her daydream and in her mind’s eye she mentally renewed every tree in the orchard from desolation into a consoling bloom. The thoughts seemed to somehow soothe her pain, so she willingly kept up the fantasy.
Closing her eyes tightly she fell deeper and deeper into the self-induced vision; being calmed by its drug-like denial of reality. Her pretence filled the air with a perfume, emitted by the tree’s abundant blossom. She tried to sniff, to inhale deeply the aromatic bouquet of her surroundings. Multitudes of tiny petals fell from the branches above and settled onto her face, each one a gentle kiss to say that all was well, a shower of clean goodness to wash away the events of the day (which were obviously only a temporary blip to be denied and forgotten.) In her mind flowers grew at her feet. One by one they sprouted and spread out, scattering across the orchard floor; a carpet of rich vegetation, a mass of swirling colour, an artist’s mixed pallet, all gently swaying in the evening breeze.
She listened hard for the bird song and enjoyed its chattering and calling amongst the brightly coloured green leaves. She listened to the buzzing bees that flew back and forth over her head and all of this to the backdrop noise of fresh running water that flooded the nearby canals. Children played alongside them. She laughed to herself, enjoying in her mind’s eye the fun they were having, splashing each other until they were soaking wet. Then she cherished the images of their mothers lovingly wrapping them up in warm, fluffy towels, smiles on their faces and not a care in the world to chase their happiness away.
“In the fullness of time…” she whispered to herself, quite dreamily.
Who knows how long she sat there in her delusionary mental escape, but she was rudely awakened by a blast of warm air and a shower of dust pollution that fell through the tree canopies all around. In the sky overhead a droning flying machine screeched to a halt. Down flashed a searchlight onto the road next to the orchard. From there it scanned the area, swishing this way and that, searching the locality. Quickly coming to her senses, the lady leapt to her feet and scurried to the other side of the orchard, hurriedly putting on her hat as she went. Within moments the place where she had sat was under the spotlight as the beam continued to leap from place to place. A thick, wiry hedge bordered the grove and she quickly saw she was trapped. Moving from tree to tree, she began to trace the orchard’s edge in order to make her way back to where she had entered and then out onto the road. She stopped, however, when four static lights suddenly illuminated the entranceway, shining down from the flying police patrol and so making escape impossible.
Around the grove the first light continued to search. Dodging, ducking and diving, the once elegant and refined woman found that she had to leave all of her gracious mannerisms behind in order to keep herself from being discovered. It became a game of guess and move, or just wait whilst the light glided past her - sometimes only a couple of feet from her position. A second light appeared from another police balloon ship and it also began a sweeping search. Not knowing how to deal with two lights she found herself standing still, frozen with her back against a tree, watching the lights moving around the orchard. She knew, however, that standing still wasn’t the answer. It would only be a matter of time before she was discovered. So she breathed in deeply to renew her courage and watched for an opportunity to move.
At the back of the orchard was a wall of coarse, tough hedgerow. It was overgrown, slightly wild and so filled with thorns that it was not something anyone would want to get close to – but there were slight gaps in the bush’s growth and the lady knew it was the only way out. After tying her hat’s ribbon cords tightly under to her chin to secure it in place, she began counting the swaying motions of the searchlights. She watched and waited. “One, two, three, four and one, two, three,” she chanted in her mind to find the pattern of each swaying beam. Pulling her fists inside the sleeves of her thick coat to protect her hands and wrapping her arms around her waist and face, she hesitated in anticipation of making her escape. Voices on the road suddenly appeared as the night-time watch took up their positions across the city.
“Don’t panic!” she whispered to herself through gritted teeth. “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait!” she commanded herself mentally, ordering her emotions to stay calm and her body to keep still.
Soldiers entered the orchard on the opposite side of the grounds and began to spread out, joking and laughing as they went, not taking their job very seriously. The lady just focused herself on the spotlight beams and poised herself for the dash. Finally the gap between their sways opened and she made good her escape. Running towards the hedge she single-mindedly focused on a small gap in its growth and sprinted with a determination to breakout. Tightening every muscle in her body to prepare for impact, she launched herself into the hedge; at the last instant dropping her head down as she entered its prickly belly. Seconds later she was splayed face down on the ground, in and amongst what felt like a thousand tiny fingers all grasping and pinching at her. Her lip bled and her shoulder felt numb from knocking through several sturdy branches. As she had expected the soldiers on the far side of the orchard heard the sound of her exit and called to each other to try to locate the source of the sound. She couldn’t wait, however, to discover if she was hurt or to try and keep the sound of her departure quiet; to get away was the main thing. So she pulled her knees up to her chest, put her hands over her head to hold her spoilt hat in place, and violently forced and pushed her way through the thorny bushes. Her progress was like being lashed with whips as the thorns and twigs pierced her outer coat and snapped around her, scraping at her arms and limbs. She didn’t stop, however, but found that licking her fingers as she moved helped to dull the pain.
Back in the orchard the soldiers eventually found the newly made hole in the hedge and were busy shining their torches into it, but weren’t able to see very much. The branches had already half closed in around the temporary gap and the city guards, not wanting cuts and bruises themselves, were not keen to enter the thorny scrubland. They signalled to the patrol balloons to shine their lights in their direction. It took a few seconds of frantic yelling, however, before they gained their attention - but by then the lady had forced her way through the undergrowth. With almost a yelp of pain she heaved herself through the last few of its branches to break away from the hedgerow’s embrace, falling out onto her knees and leaving the orchard behind.
She found herself on a small pathway, flanked on either side by tall, wild grasses that stood proudly to attention and gave brief nods as the evening wind rippled across them. After glancing behind her, she scampered to her feet and hurriedly followed the narrow trail, picking up the folds of her long coat and dress as she ran. The path wound this way and that and finally stopped at the edge of a dried-up riverbed. Glancing again over her shoulder (to see that the police patrol lights were still sweeping over the orchard and surrounding hedgerow) she dropped herself down into the dusty channel where the river had once flowed. Trailing its meandering path, she walked and half jogged for a few minutes, each footstep crumbling through a thin top layer of hard baked soil amidst the multitude of other footprints already there.
Eventually there came into view a large pipe, sticking out from the side of the river’s red earthen bank. Without hesitation she stepped in, bowing her head slightly to keep her hat from scraping along the pipe’s dirty roof. She walked on and on into the dark passageway. Many times, in the course of her journey, the tunnel divided into two or came out briefly into the open air where there were more pipe entrances to choose from. Through tunnel upon tunnel she went, deciding quickly which way to go and which pipe to walk in, following a very familiar route, until she arrived at an open mouth again where the pipe maze ended. Briefly poking her face out the other side, she scanned the sky above and her surroundings left and right. Once she was happy that all was clear, she dropped out of the pipe. On her right was a concealed stone stairway, hidden behind an overgrown hawthorn bush. Having climbed the stairs she stopped at the top to open a small gate and then went through into a highly cultivated garden.
Along a neatly kept gravel path she now walked to a crunch, crunch sound under her feet. After navigating a small maze, made from neatly clipped hedged walls, she finally walked out onto a long, broad lawn. Making her way across the grass, she removed her shoes and walked in a more relaxed manner, sinking her toes into the mossy ground as she went. On her left were the iron front gates to her large country estate and on her right, up a long driveway, was her home, a great mansion residence for the rich and wealthy.
“Well my dear, you nearly got caught for being out too late tonight,” she said to herself, in a rather casual, almost jovial tone. She laughed briefly at her own comment and then stopped.
“Stop it,” she said, correcting herself. “Oh Georgiana, why do you...” but she didn’t finish the sentence.
Having made her way across the grass and then up her long driveway, she looked back from the front of her very wealthy home and felt in her heart like a pauper. The evening’s events suddenly came flooding back to her, the flushing of Sir Frederick and then her walk through the city, which had been so lonesome and grim. The dirty capital was usually a dull place but tonight it had seemed especially bleak and grey. She remembered the silence that had followed her as she meandered her way through the streets and the wind that had whistled around her ankles and then on, chasing its echoes down the deserted cobbled boulevards and lanes nearby.
“Oh Dad!” she said, almost to herself as if referring to a rock in her life that was gone but to which she still clung.
She let her tearful eyes roam across the expanse of the great city, a place where so many people dwelt but where nobody lived; a grey, stoned shell in which a population was kept prisoner to false hopes and long forgotten dreams. Taking in the shabby, grey silhouettes of the derelict factories and abandoned streets, she tried to see through the mess and dirt to remember some dim and distant childhood memories of what once was. “Look what we’ve become,” she sighed.
Taking in a long and deep breath, she strengthened both her posture and resolve.
“We’ll see your end Mr E…,” she said, in a bitter tone, “…in the fullness of time. There are those of us who are not satisfied with sipping to subsist, or with sampling to survive,” she whispered. “We want to drink deep and live. Your scarcity is illusion and our forced dependency is defined as you doing us a favour. Your divide and rule has become to us deprive and ruin.”
She shivered. Mid-Summer it might be, but keenly feeling the absence of Sir Frederick’s company brought a tinge of winter into her normally cheerful and generous heart. Struggling to stay warm, she wrapped her arms around herself and rubbed her shoulders; wondering where her next comfort would come from. The chill of the night air from the desert had drifted in, but tonight it felt especially cold. It’s always an icy moment when you lose a friend.
Just outside the walls of Clear Wash City lay the great expanse of a vast, arid desert that stretched itself out towards the horizon. Playing host to the backdrop of night, the sky had turned a deep, dark blood-red, in preparation for the setting sun’s departure. This canopy of crimson seemed in some way to reflect the deathly nature of the lonesome sand dunes and rusty-brown, weather-beaten rocks that were scattered across this territory called ‘No-Mans-Land’. Amidst the dehydrated terrain gusts of dusty winds skipped and danced their twisting, turning, waltz-like movements. These persistent flurries of the night continually gathered up the land’s lifeless dirt into their invisible hands and wafted great piles of dust up into swelling clouds; before dropping it all again, by their own whim, onto equally dry and dead ground. Scurrying from place to place, these swishing and swirling breezes chased their tails here and there, playing a never-ending game. To any onlooker the wind’s behaviour was perhaps a warning, a show of strength, demonstrating just how far and wide this inhospitable domain stretched. This was a waterless and thirsty wasteland, friend to no-one and predator to the misguided or ill equipped. A prowling beast, she lay in wait for the unsuspecting traveller or the intrepid explorer, to devour any who might seek refuge within her borders.
With night-time swiftly approaching, the wilderness rocks and barren stretches of parched land found themselves swallowed up by the long drawn out shadows of the surrounding hills and mountain peaks. The sun now slipped beneath the skyline and the desert owl, swooping this way and that, looked for its first meal of the night whilst the wild coyotes howled in the oncoming darkness.
On a ledge, near the summit of a tall mountain peak, two figures lay flat on their stomachs against the rock surface; each peering through a small telescopic instrument and gazing out towards the horizon. Like statues, they neither moved nor spoke, apparently mesmerised by what they saw. One was a man with a stern, weather-beaten face and the other a girl, nearly but not yet into adulthood. Completely still, they kept watching and staring off into the distance, whilst the wind pulled and tugged at their grey cloaks that flapped in the night breeze.
Over the mountaintops, in the direction the figures were gazing, ten thousand lights danced and sparkled as the last rays of the setting sun bounced off the numerous windows that belonged to the white marbled towers and buildings of Clear Wash City. Like a great stony creature settling down to sleep for the night, the city was quiet and covered in shadows. Flags flew from every tower and lofty edifice whilst between its turrets guards could be seen walking along the top of the great wall that surrounded it. High in the sky the motorised police balloons gently sailed through the evening air. Beaming down their circular lights from these floating vantage points, they systematically searched the city back alleys and side streets, trying to catch any stray residents who might be in parts of the capital that were off limits to ordinary citizens.
Through the eye of their telescopes the two figures had watched the flushing of Sir Frederick James and then followed the dispersion of those who had gathered in the great square to say goodbye to the city authorities’ latest victim. Now their gaze rested upon Mr E as he skipped and hopped his way back into the city palace. He was gleefully happy, now dancing on his tiptoes, now throwing his bright silver cane into the air; at times he flapped his arms like a bird and crowed like a cockerel at the top of his voice.
“That man gets more ludicrous and bizarre by the day,” sighed the young woman.
“Yes I know,” replied the man. “He’s completely mad.”
“The people aren’t ready yet, are they?” young woman commented, a tone of sadness and disappointment in her voice.
“Well,” replied the man. “It’s still difficult to tell. Things can change very quickly. Right now some are, some aren’t and some never will be. I just hope that as many as possible can come over onto our side before we send out His Majesty’s herald.”
Their final few minutes were spent peering intently at the palace clock tower and in particular at the central flagpole, from which a large golden standard flew with a red letter ‘E’ emblazoned across it. Around them, the last glimpses of light said goodbye to the evening and finally disappeared from sight. It was night and all became quiet and still.
“Nothing to report then,” said the young woman sitting back and stretching after coming to the end of a long day.
“No,” replied the man, “nothing today. We’ll come back here tomorrow morning for the early shift and then that’s us done until next week.”
With those words they both rose to their feet, dusted themselves down and each pulled a scarf loosely across their face.
“After you Mr Tremblay,” said the young woman, gesturing with her hand.
“No, after you Miss Tremblay,” came his reply.
“Age before beauty,” she said.
“Wimpy youth before stalwart age,” he said.
“Stalwart!” she replied. “What’s that?”
“You know,” said Mr Tremblay. “To be unwavering, unfaltering, resolute, persistent, committed, dedicated, unswerving, determined, courageous, daring, fearless. All the things that my generation are and that today’s wimpy youth aren’t.”
“Oh Dad!” she sighed, with a smile in her eyes and walking on ahead of him. “You’re impossible.”
“No, not impossible,” he teased. “Stalwart. That is bold, fearless, daring, valiant, brave, stout-hearted, even perhaps audacious. Do you know what audacious means?”
“I’m not listening to you Dad,” she said, sticking her fingers in her ears as she walked.
“Now Anna,” he chuckled with a grin. “When did you ever?”
Carefully they made their way down the side of the ridge and followed a path until they came to the edge of a rocky crevasse. Beneath them was a deep drop off the side of the mountain into bottomless darkness. Ignoring this apparent danger, they briefly held hands, leant forwards over the wide expanse and dived into the abyss below. Dressed in grey from top to bottom, with their cloaks tightly wrapped around them, they plummeted straight down for a few seconds and then flung their capes open wide. A wind caught underneath them and - snap! - their cloaks became ridged by a thin metal frame that clicked into place as they fell. Gliding through the night air, they flew down and finally landed gracefully onto the dusty, red earthen floor at the foot of the mountain.
Walking on for a short time, they turned aside into a gorge and came across a large wicker basket that sat behind a pile of fallen boulders. The basket was twice their height and just as wide. Taking hold of a dangling rope ladder they climbed in and disappeared from view. Moments later four large mechanical legs popped out of the basket’s corners and pushed upwards, raising the wicker frame off the ground. At the same time a large balloon began to inflate from just above the basket’s top. Up it went until it hovered directly overhead, held in place by four large chains attached to the basket’s corners. Anna and Mr Tremblay appeared directly under the balloon, obviously standing on some unseen platform inside. Holding up a small night-time heat-seeking device, they used it to quickly peer into the darkness around them, scanning the night air to make sure that no one was nearby. Jets of steam billowed out from beneath each of the basket’s metal legs and the hot watery air flooded and mushroomed all around. The basket temporarily shook for an instant and then, whoosh, up it zoomed high into the atmosphere. Up, up they climbed, higher and higher, their speed growing all the time. The evening wind caught them and their cloaks swayed and swished in the night breeze. Woven onto the chests of their tunics was a royal red, gold and blue crest. On the crest were the pictures of a great lion and a prowling bear, standing opposite each other underneath the wings of an immense soaring eagle. Boldly written above the crest were the words, ‘In the Reign of the King.’
“Home in a few minutes,” said Anna.
“Rhubarb pie for supper,” replied her father, with a glint in his eye.
Soon they were miles high and quickly disappeared into a cloud.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Back in Clear Wash City Mr E had taken a long time to settle down before retiring for the night, his buoyant mood had kept him up for hours. Firstly he had eaten a hearty meal. Then he had watched some dismal short plays, put on by the catering staff in the small theatre at the back of the palace. Being quickly bored by their theatrical attempts, Erepsin had decided to join in and made himself the star of each show – inventing characters that were not part of the original script and forcing everyone to spontaneously act around him. Once the dreadful events were over and the ‘actor extraordinaire’ (as the audience of eleven people had called him) had left the stage, he finally went to bed in high spirits. After dimming the oil lamp that hung on the wall next to his bed, his head sank into his delightfully soft and luxurious pillow. The room fell into a semi-darkness and his eyes closed; a satisfied smile finished the day.
Hours later, however, as his dreams deepened, his shallow and happy mood fled away. His countenance darkened and a shadowy gloom crept across his face. His limbs started to erratically shift from side to side with small juddering movements; trembling here and there and quaking from inner fears. Whatever it was he was seeing in his minds-eye, it clearly made him distressed. He mumbled a few times and grumbled some complaints about his people’s behaviour and lack of loyalty. His facial features tightened and through gritted teeth he almost growled out his displeasure at anyone that he could see in his dream. He thrashed his head from side to side and then he suddenly bellowed out in a husky, harsh-pitched yowl, "They're all traitors, the lot of 'em."
His agitated tone barked the words into the surrounding darkness, but the hush and silence that filled the bedroom’s atmosphere quickly swallowed them up and they were gone without a reply. This non-response to his words only served to irritate Mr E. "Traitors, vagabonds and rebels!” he shrieked again in his sleep and then hesitated, waiting, listening for someone, anyone to reply. The stillness and shadowy-gloom that surrounded the bed now matched Mr E’s mood. Feeling bereft and alone, Erepsin loudly licked his lips whilst his uneasy breathing pattern turned from a deep gasping into a repetitive wheeze. Perhaps he was now exhausted and out of breath or perhaps it was just the lack of comeback from his imaginary audience that distressed him – it was difficult to tell. Eventually he calmed and, having paused to wait for something (but couldn’t quite remember what) he continued his mumbling and random chattering. Words began to tumble out of him in a troubled manner, a rambling and murmuring that meant very little to any sensible listening mind. This went on for some time until a new, sharper discourse emerged amongst his many confused utterances. The words he spoke became critical and severe; harshly spat out with a scornful, spiteful contempt.
“I’ve never trusted 'em,” he yelled in a deep throaty voice, “never will,” he added in a quieter, menacing manner. “There’s nothing you can do to change my mind. It’s completely made up you know. I know what they’re up to! They’re all just waiting. Waiting, waiting and waiting they are; all the time waiting for me to slip up, trip up and fall into one of their rotten snares. I shan’t be taken in, not me. I’ll not be hoodwinked. I know what they are; deceitful conspirators, ready to shut me down and run me out!”
Again Erepsin paused to listen. In his mind’s eye his words rang in the ears of his captivated audience and he waited patiently for an answer. The audience however, (who were meant to be listening to his address) were obviously not impressed and the noiseless room gave him no encouragement, no comfort, no comradeship. He stammered a little, not at all sure what to say next or why his lively speech was met with such an icy contempt. After a time he stirred himself, picked up the conversation, and continued.
“Keep 'em down, that's what I say! Put 'em right under your thumb. Squash 'em, till they're as dead on the inside as dirty they are on the out. Servitude, that's what they need. A rod for their backs and a whip for their heels; that's what the likes of them understands."
"No! That’s not true." replied a quieter, almost whispering utterance in objection. The soft voice seemed to appear from somewhere within Erepsin, as if someone else inside him, a conscience perhaps, had been listening all along and didn’t want to talk but had finally been provoked into action. "They're not that bad,” it added.
The husky voice from inside Mr E seemed momentarily jovial that he’d finally got the conversation he was looking for. He echoed the last words of his friend.
“Not that bad?” he curtly enquired. “They’re all rotten, through and through.”
“You leave them be,” retorted the soft voice from within him. “What have they done that you hate them so?"
"Done!" came the gruff reply. "Done! I'll tell you what they've done; rebels, the lot of 'em. Ruined my city they have, that's what they've done. Just look at it! Mess, grime and filth! Who could live in such a place?"
The darkened room went quiet for a few more moments, the soft voice perhaps pondering what had just been said; Erepsin's uneasy respiration being the only sound to break the surrounding silence. The lattice at the window shook and rattled from a strong wind that howled outside. With the moon briefly appearing from behind the clouds, for what seemed only an instant, a stream of dreary light flooded in. In those few seconds of semi-illumination the richly ornamented bedroom was once again revealed. Within its highly decorated walls were several armchairs, an open-hearth fireplace, a large sink, a four-poster bed and a golden ‘tick-tocking’ clock, which sat on the mantelpiece above the hearth. Then, just as quickly as it came, the light faded and the semi-darkness returned.
"You don't know 'em like I do," said the gruff voice through Erepsin. "Trickery, that's the word. Tricksters and fraudsters. Always scheming! Always up to something they are! Never happy with their lot!"
"What have they got to be happy about?" replied the softer, whispering tone. "It's all your fault. You got them in this scrape. You get them out again."
This question seemed to hit a raw nerve in his grumpy friend who thundered his response at the top of his voice.
"Who do they think I am?” he cried. “Some kind of happiness puppet to keep them entertained no doubt! Stroppy and thankless - that's what best describes 'em."
Again, it went quiet.
"You're lonely," retorted the patient and gentle voice, once the atmosphere had quietened. "Not quite what you thought it would be is it, being number one?"
"Shut up!" snapped the gruff voice. "I know where your loyalties lie. Always been with them you have, right from the beginning. It's their side that you’re on. Traitor!"
"Don't call me that," pleaded the soft conscience from within Erepsin, clearly intimidated by his friend.
"And why not? Should have had you flushed years ago."
To this there was no answer. Seeing that he’d scored some kind of success the harsh mannered speaker carried on the conversation.
"So, whose side are you on then? About time you made up your mind it is. Lost your sense of fun you have. That's what your problem is; lost your stomach for proper entertainment. Proper fun requires guts."
"I don't want anything to do with it!" came the unsettled reply.
"You can't handle it!"
"No, I just don't find it funny anymore."
"You mean you've lost your backbone, you spineless wimp!"
"No, that's not true," replied the soft voice.
"Round and round and round we go...,” taunted his crabby friend.
"Stop it!" he objected, quite upset. "Just stop it!"
"Ha!" came the hollering reply, "Told you, you've lost it."
The argument continued until the wind outside ceased it’s howling and the light rain that fell ended as the storm clouds broke. Bright moonlight returned and within minutes the room received a gentle luminosity. On the bed Mr E lay, his body now contorted and he was sweating so profusely that the sheets on which he rested were beyond damp. Thrashing his head from side to side, his face grimaced and twisted as his tormented thoughts continued to rush through his mind.
"Where has my waterworks gone?" he suddenly demanded in the gruff voice. "It's gone! It's gone!"
"It's not your waterworks," he quietly replied to himself. "Never was."
"Yes it is!" he bellowed back at himself. "It's mine, given to me before the dawn of time it was."
"Now you're just being silly," he gently said.
"No I'm not!" he shouted back.
Erepsin began to writhe from side to side on the bed. Shuddering, trembling, his limbs almost jumping uncontrollably; as some terrible emotion ranted and raved inside and was bursting to get out. Gripping his fingers into the mattress and bed sheets he began to cough. Each movement of his chest was accompanied by a pant for air, and each gasp of air brought a surge of pain. Then gulping, swallowing and choking, he lay in this quaking state for about half a minute, struggling to inhale. Finally he cleared his throat and took in several deep gasps to breathe more easily; his body calming - sinking back into the mattress to become quiet and still.
"He is coming you know," he eventually said in the gruff voice.
"I know," came a soft reply from within him rather timidly. “In the fullness of t…”
"Not far away now he is”, interrupted the grumpy personality. “The ruin of us all will he be."
"You've got to stop him," said the second soft voice. "I-I can't do it; haven't got the courage like you."
“Stop everyone I will,” said the gruff voice. A broad smile came across Erepsin’s face. Then he laughed to himself and added, “I’ve got a surprise you know. Do you want to know my secret?”
Erepsin was about to reply to himself when, Ding! The clock on the mantelpiece chimed out. Ding! Ding! Ding! (Four o'clock in the morning.) At this Mr E sat bolt upright.
"Oh, my!" he said, wiping his hand across his face. He looked at the measure of sweat on his palm and then pulled at his shirt, sodden with perspiration. After spending some moments to clear his head, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and staggered to the sink. Filling it with water he splashed his face, ran a sponge round the back of his neck, and then stared into the mirror opposite. The harassed reflection gawped back at him and, for a brief instant, he found his head in his hands - where he sobbed until he realised what he was doing. Pulling the sink's plug and wiping his face with a towel, Erepsin walked over to the window. Peering through the lattice he looked down onto the streets of Clear Wash City. All of the doors to every house and home were closed and the people were out of site.
"Come on Erepsin," he said to himself. "Get it together."
He glanced over to the bed but immediately refused the idea of returning.
"Time for a quick bath?" he thought to himself. He shook his head. Quickly exiting the room, he moved purposefully down the corridor at an almost running pace. With the palace staff all asleep, he went undisturbed through door upon door till he entered one of the study rooms at the far back of the palace. It was a place which used to belong to the head waiter years ago, Erepsin had also been familiar with it since childhood – often being sent there as a boy by his mother when she was fed up with him. The room was far from anyone, a lost corner for a lost and lonely person or a refuge for a recluse who was happy with his own company. Later on in life Erepsin had made the room his own private study, a place of continued withdrawal from his immediate world. Here he now rested for a little while, relaxing in the arms of a broad leather-backed chair; an old friend, crimson red and spoilt with stains and the wrinkles of age. Despite it being old it was still comfortable and its smell brought back memories of boyhood. He dosed for a good few minutes till a gust of cold wind caused him to awaken and shudder.
The draft blew in from two large air vents, set into the wall on his right. Each vent was square, about three foot tall and just as wide. Together they looked like doors to a magical cupboard with their lattice of crisscrossing iron bars hiding the secrets of the palace’s cooling system behind them. He stared hard at the rusting metal network for a few moments, wondering if a childhood adventure lay somewhere beyond. Then, after locking the door to the study, he walked over and pushed on each vent so that they swung backwards. Behind them, a narrow gap that he could still crawl through and beyond that a slight slope down to a low winding tunnel. This Erepsin entered and followed the passageway as it turned left and then right, going slowly downhill all of the time. Each step took him closer to a watery bubbling, chattering sound. Round one final bend he went and entered a small stone chamber (a place he’d visited many times before). Moonlight streamed into it from a series of drainage holes in the roof above, showing that he was underground somewhere just outside the palace building. Through the chamber a gentle river flowed, babbling along its way in a happy manner. It flowed at a good pace, finally exiting underneath the far wall and disappearing from site. On the opposite side of the chamber, there it was, a small gurgling fountain that danced to a sprightly tune. This was the source of Erepsin’s private water supply – from which he kept the city population alive.
Mr E sat down next to the river and put his hand into the flow. The water was cool and ran quickly through the gaps between his fingers. There was always something soothing about its movement and its sound. He had often sat there for long periods to calm himself after mood swings or bad dreams in the night. Now he relaxed his tired limbs and, feeling safe again, let the allurement of deep slumber come back to woo him into sleep once more. Lying down on his side next to the river, he let its babbling chatter fill his ears whilst his hand swished in the icy current. For a moment everything else in the world went away and he was free again to just be himself. He closed his eyes and laid himself onto his back to rest. His mind stopped spinning, peace flooded in at last and a hope arose of better things to come. Nothing to disturb, no distractions, all was finally at ease; even his breathing sounded clam, calm in comparison that is to the nattering brook that continually ran at his side.
“What a chore,” he thought to himself as the water’s talk filled his ears. “Having to continually chatter and jabber without any rest!”
It made him feel positively tranquil, whilst his manic friend rambled on its continuous and never ending conversation.
The first moments of deepener sleep were nearly upon him when his left eye suddenly received a spat of water from the river. It may have been that some dirt had fallen from the ceiling to cause the splash and so sprinkle his face, you couldn’t tell, but Erepsin’s response was to jump out of his sleep and wipe the water from his flickering eye. He then wiped his hand across his face and found himself staring briefly upwards. On the chamber roof he saw something that he’d almost forgotten was there. A small royal crest, painted beautifully, made up from the figures of a great lion and a prowling bear, standing opposite each other underneath the flight of a soaring eagle. Above the crest was written some words that had faded and couldn’t be read any more but beneath it was the phrase, “In the fullness of time.” Something deep within Erepsin immediately snarled at the image. He rolled back over onto his side, sat up, stuck his hand in the river and splashed it as high as he could make it go – in defiance of what he was looking at. Disturbed and upset by the crest, he then got up and walked out of the chamber, wishing that he’d not come in at all.
On the streets of Clear Wash City not a person could be seen. Its narrow, cobbled, twisting, winding lanes all merged themselves together into a maze of deserted, lonesome roads. Doors now shut, windows tightly closed and lights, if any, were hidden behind drawn curtains and closed shutters. Everything was completely quiet and still and, except for the occasional drone of the motorised police balloons swooping through the night sky, not even a whisper was to be heard.
On the night air however, to the attentive ear, a low muffled sound could sometimes be detected when the wind blew in a certain direction. None of the guards on the wall heard it and no one in the houses and buildings did either, but it was there, like a persistent echo in the night. Chatter, chatter, it went or perhaps a clatter, clatter. Sometimes it went a clunkety clunk or whoosh, whoosh, or a mixture of them all. Time and again the sound rose and fell on the gentle breeze. Moving away from the city centre, towards the less inhabited areas, the sound became a little clearer but was still muffled and difficult to make out. It could only be heard properly from inside a small woodland wilderness, located on the outskirts of the city near its western wall. The mechanical tune hummed its way through the branches and leaves of the trees, singing it’s clattering, chattering, thumping and grinding melody. In the middle of the small wood a narrow lane wound through the dense foliage, until it met and ran parallel to a low wall that marked the edge of an overgrown garden. Inside the garden stood an old oak tree and behind it a small, concealed stairway that descended into darkness. This was the darkness that kept hidden the entrance to a secret underground bunker and it was from this bunker that the sound came.
A door briefly opened at the bottom of the dark staircase and out popped a young gentleman who rushed up the stairs spluttering, choking and coughing. Dropping to his knees next to the old oak tree, he coughed some more; thumping on his chest with a clenched fist whilst gasping for air. Eventually a smallish, pink substance dislodged itself from inside his throat and he spat it out on the ground. Then, taking a few more deep breaths, he exhaled to steady himself and put his head between his knees. Finally, he lifted up his face again, replacing what was once a panic-stricken countenance with relief.
Swivelling round to sit down, the young man lay back on the grass to take a short breather. Light-headedness, nauseous sickness and a sleepy faintness momentarily flooded his heavy head and limbs. Feeling like dizzy-lead the man found himself pinned to the ground for the next minute or so until the sensation gradually left and a calmness settled. Then, letting his hands run over the moist, damp foliage growing about, he stared up at the star-studded night sky.
As the moments passed, the man’s eyes gradually closed away from the starry host. Dreaming he was somewhere else, he sank into the illusion of being on a nice sandy beach with a splashing sea and plenty of drinks under a sun-scorched sky. He had hardly settled himself, however, when the door to the bunker below opened again and a voice called out.
“Come on lazy bones, we’re not done yet. You can sleep in the morning.”
The voice belonged to a young woman who stuck her head round the door and saw the feet of her slumped colleague dangling over the edge of the stairway’s top step.
“Having forty winks are we?” she enquired.
“Go away,” said the man on the grass.
“Come on,” she replied, “we’ve got a schedule to keep to.”
“Go away!” repeated the man, in a disgruntled manner.
“Our schedule,” she called back in a colder tone. “Time is going by!” and with that the door closed again.
The young gentleman groaned and grumbled to himself, protesting that his belly ached and muttering something about hard labour. He pulled himself to his feet and descended the stairs again mumbling, murmuring and complaining his way down each step.
“Time is going by,” he said, sarcastically to himself. “Time is going by, time is going by,” he chanted.
He unlocked the iron door using a key that dangled on a chain from his belt and then pressed a button just to the right of the lock. An electronic voice from small speakers in the doorframe asked him to place his hand flat against the door, which the young man did.
“Time,” said the young man again, in a more reflective manner. “In the fullness of time,” he added, as if quoting a well-known mantra.
A thin strip of light briefly ran across his fingers and palm, scanning them for identification.
“In the foolness of time,” he said mockingly. “Everyone’s a fool who works here.”
The door swung open to reveal a misty room and, reluctantly, he stepped in.
In the dimly lit bunker swirls of hissing vapour floated and drifted across the room, hanging in the air like a dense, thick fog. The walls ran wet with condensed moisture whilst the stifling heat fanned the clouds of gas that enveloped and shrouded everything. Through this smog the young man walked, passing many people who, like him, were all dressed in white. They were engaged in frantic activities, quickly running to and fro amongst rows and rows of long wooden tables. On these tables, many weird and wonderful robotic machines performed their pre-programmed duties; together they made a terrible din. Some machines hammered, sawed and squashed whilst others shook themselves violently, rattling and mixing up their contents. Many had shiny drills that whizzed and whirred. Others heated up fizzing elements that sparkled and crackled, shooting sparks into the air like mini fireworks. There were mechanical gadgets that whisked and mashed whilst others pulled, twisted and stretched different gluey, rubbery substances. Tall pulleys, suspended from the chamber’s ceiling, sped up and down and cranked the long arms of pumps, which in turn stirred pots and pans full of boiling, steaming liquids.
The young man tentatively walked around the room, guided by the lights of many gas burners which flared brightly in the steamy mist. All ablaze they sent their orange and blue dancing flames licking up at the feet of different sized test tubes, held in racks down the middle of each table. The various mixtures in them continually bubbled and spluttered whilst spaghetti-like tangles of brown rubber pipes ran from table to table, joining the experiments to each other. At times he had to bend down, duck, squeeze under, through and in between these pipes and experiments to get to where he was going. (A complete health and safety nightmare – but somehow that kind of thinking wasn’t important in this bunker). He coughed again. In the air hung a lingering, smouldering smell that was so strong he could taste it and, as usual, it seemed to stick to the back of his throat.
Fastened across the four walls were a variety of charts, drawings and graphs and near the far end of the room was a huge silver, shiny, iron box that stood by itself separate from everything else. Shaped like a large square tin, it had gas pipes entering it on both sides. Red and yellow lights flickered and flashed across its front panel and, near the middle of this machine, a charred and blackened grill revealed a burning fire inside. The machine spewed out a constant flood of smoke from this front vent and, near its top, written in red, were the letters J.E.N.N.Y.
The young man quickly passed J.E.N.N.Y. (putting a hankie over his nose as he went) and finally arrived back at his desk where his colleague was waiting for him, along with what looked like a plate full of small pink canapés. He looked at them dubiously, remembering the problem that one of them had caused him a few minutes ago. Then he looked out across the room again to mentally prepare himself. The four walls of the underground chamber, sodden with the damp and heat, continually echoed with the clattering, rattling, shaking and bubbling noises of the experiments as all of the sounds mingled together like a chorus of swarming insects. Very gingerly he took up one of the pink items, glanced at his friend and popped it into his mouth.
“When it’s your turn, I hope you choke,” he said to his grinning friend. Then after a few more chews he pursed his lips and blew so that a pink bubble began to protrude out of his mouth. It grew and grew until it burst back onto his face. Strangely enough, the man didn’t wipe the pink substance off but just stood there.
“One, two, three, four,” the other colleague began to count, with a chuckle in her voice whilst looking at him with a wink and a smirk.
Walking quickly around the bunker, the other people moved between the tables continuing their frantic activities and looking after the experiments and the bubbling liquids in their pots and pans. Many of them wore large goggles to shield their eyes and some had donned hardened bowler hats to protect their heads. Underneath their outer science gowns glimpses of bow ties and stiff collars could be seen peeking through amongst multi-coloured suit jackets. Looking at their dress you couldn’t be sure if they were meant to be having a good night out, going to work in an office, or employed on a building site. Everything in the bunker, however, seemed to be running like clockwork with everyone knowing exactly what they were supposed to be doing.
On the opposite side of the room sat a man perched on the edge of a table. He had a stained yellow and white beard along with curly, white hair and bushy eyebrows to match, which sat under a wrinkled forehead. He wore baggy brown trousers and underneath his blemished white jacket was a brightly patterned waistcoat. On the end of his nose was a pair of gold-rimmed and very thick lensed glasses and behind these the man’s eyes danced from side to side. He kept watching his workers who laboured on, toiling throughout the night, clearly they were on a mission to save the world and time was more than running out.
“Well, there’s no denying it, that’s a good night’s work nearly finished and done, even if I say so myself,” shouted the white bearded man over the constant din of the machines. He jumped up and walked over to a worker nearby who was mixing a paste in a pot. “Use the other one,” he said, pointing to a box of lime green powder that was on the end of the table. “Just use the cleaning agent by itself.”
The man walked slowly round the room, peering at each experiment as he went. He stopped at another table and pointed at a blue paste laid out on a glowing red-hot metal plate. “Very good,” he said to another worker, “now slowly, very slowly, mix this in with the bubble gum powder and then we can put it into the freeze chamber. We’ll be needing some later.”
“Yes, Professor,” the assistant replied.
“Now, how’s that other bubble gum coming along?” he said to himself out loud, and with that he walked down the long room and stopped by a tray that had a bright pink substance on it. Two assistants joined him and began at his instruction to pull and twist and tug the pink gum in all directions.
“Pull harder,” he said. “Pull harder.”
The Professor watched how the gum twisted and stretched and then, taking some of it into his hands, examined it very carefully; running it through the tips of his fingers and then rolling it into a ball.
“Hmm,” he said, after he had prodded it and given it a quick smell. “George!” he called, “George, where are you? I need you again.”
Another assistant came over to him from the other end of the room. He was tall, thin with bright, short ginger hair, had a longish chin and a thinly wedged nose. His tired sunken eyes showed little sign of life, deep shadows framed them, a bulls eye target declaring a severe lack of sleep.
“Bubble gum test time again,” said the Professor.
George dropped his shoulders, let out a sigh and bent over towards the Professor, standing very still with his eyes tightly shut. The wrinkled expression on his weary face showed that he was expecting something bad to happen, it did. Taking some of the bubble gum that was in his hands the Professor squashed it flat like a pancake, licked it twice to add his own saliva and rubbed it all over George’s face. At the same time another assistant began to slowly count, “One, two, three, four…”
“Oh,” said George, taking a gasp of breath as the gum was rubbed onto his skin. “It’s really cold!”
“Oh don’t be such a wimp,” said the Professor, still rubbing the gum into George’s cheeks and chin. “This gum’s been out of the freeze chamber now for a good two to three minutes. You don’t know the meaning of the word cold. I remember when I was your age; the Senior Professor had me standing in a barrel of iced tea for thirty minutes whilst chewing on deeply frozen ice cubes after I had drunk fourteen cups of extra chilled milk. You kids today don’t know how good and easy science life is.”
“Twelve, thirteen, fourteen,” said the other assistant, still counting slowly.
“So don’t you worry about a little cold gum on your face,” continued the Professor.
“It’s not just the cold,” said George, spluttering the words out between his trembling lips. “It’s what’s in the gum. I really don’t like the thought of it.”
“Oh, don’t be such a wimp,” said the Professor again. “We’re scientists not chefs. It’s not as if we’re going to be eating the stuff!”
“Eighteen, nineteen, twenty,” said the other assistant.
“Right,” said the Professor. “Let’s quickly get this gum off.”
The Professor helped George peel and scrape the bubble gum from his face, which came away remarkably easily and all in one piece. He then held it up to the light and examined it. Pulling out a mini gas lantern from his pocket to help him see more clearly, he inspected it again and then George's face in fine detail, poking and pulling at his skin as he went.
“Hmm,” he said again after a few moments. “The gum's not quite ready yet. Another four or five minutes of pulling and twisting and then we’ll heat it through in Jenny. After that it should be finished.”
He patted George on the shoulder. George’s face now looked quite clean but a little red and sore. “Well done lad,” said the Professor.
George managed a weak smile in return and then hastily walked back down the room to carry on his work.
“Right, carry on as you were both of you and be quick about it,” said the Professor to the other two assistants with him, “It’s turning to morning outside and we’re running out of time.”
The two assistants, wearing industrial rubber gloves, began pulling and stretching and twisting the gum again whilst the Professor turned around to look at what else was happening in the room.
“Fantastic,” he said to himself, glancing at the different experiments. “Well, I think that this time we may well just manage it. Oh, it’s just fantastic,” he said, rubbing his hands together with delight.
He felt that the moment of truth for him was finally at the door. Not only was his current experiment drawing to a conclusion, being the fulfilment of months of work, but it also represented a lifelong dream to be a successful, even famous, scientist; one of the greats who made their own unique difference in the world so that the world would never be the same again. For him, a new day was about to dawn; a day when he would be able to make his own stamp on history and leave behind an impressive, personal legacy.
Clearing his throat he called out over the din of the experiments, “Our night’s work is nearly over and done everyone. The ever rolling ball of scientific invention bounces on today past new boundaries of knowledge.”
He began to strut his way up and down the room, feeling confident and successful.
“What a new day this is going to be,” he continued. “I shall…”
The Professor, however, didn’t finish what he was speaking as there came a loud Knock! Knock! Knock! from the bottom end of the room on the bunker door. All froze and looked at the Professor, who in turn stared back at everyone.
“Was anyone expecting a visitor?” he eventually asked.
They all shook their heads.
Knock! Knock! went the door again.
“Oh dear,” he said to himself. “Well it’s too late to hide all of this stuff now.”
“Switch these off,” said the Professor, pointing in the general direction of the experiments. His assistants quickly moved between each of the long tables and within a matter of moments the machines were still and quiet, except for the odd splutter from a bubbling pot or test tube. Feeling sick in the anticipation that it was the city police outside, the Professor swallowed hard and made his way through the entanglement of wires and rubber tubes that were scattered across the floor. Down to the iron door he went and, with a tentative hand, took hold of its handle. He paused. “Er, who is it?” he said.
“It’s me,” came a woman’s voice in reply.
A sigh of relief came out from everyone.
“Er, please place your hand on the door for a final security check,” said the Professor.
The door itself seemed to hum as if scanning something and then a mechanical voice from a speaker in the far corner of the room droned out:
“Palm scan complete. Data verification of individual concluded. Identity of personage confirmed as: Lady Georgiana Pluggat-Lynnette.”
The Professor unlocked and opened the door. There, in the doorway, was the very well-to-do looking lady, standing at the bottom of the steep stairway. Removing her hat, she was tall and slender with curly, nearly frizzy, brown hair, a slightly pointed nose and a broad smile that touched a dimple on either side of her cheeks. Wearing now a very expensive morning dress, several necklaces, bracelets on her wrists and bright shining rings on her fingers, she looked very decorous and correct. Surprisingly, however, over everything else she wore a see-through plastic mackintosh.
“Oh, Lady Pluggat,” said the Professor, with the sensation of relief still flooding through his veins. “You had us all on edge. We weren’t expecting anyone from the resistance to visit us this morning. We thought we were about to be arrested.”
“Oh, I am sorry,” said the lady, gently waving her hat through the air to push the steam aside so that she could see to whom she was talking. “The council heard that you might be having a break-through on something new and sent me over. Is that right?”
“Yes M’lady,” said the elated Professor, looking very pleased with himself.
He pulled up a stool for the posh lady to sit on and enthusiastically brushed the dust off its top with his dirty handkerchief. Then he pulled one up for himself. They both sat down and the Professor carried on.
“And when we have finished,” he said, “everyone, absolutely everyone, will be able to have a wash without the City authorities knowing about it!”
“Really?” replied Lady Pluggat, looking surprised and pleased. This was news indeed. “And how would that be?” she enquired.
“Well,” said the Professor, taking his glasses off and cleaning them on his lab coat as he spoke. “As washing with water in the city is now against the law, we need another substance to wash with, right?”
“Er, yes, that’s true,” said Lady Pluggat, quickly glancing around the room to try and see what they were all up to.
“And,” continued the Professor, “we therefore need to disguise this face washing substance as something else, right?”
“Well yes, I suppose so,” she replied.
“So,” said the Professor, “it must be something that can be often seen in everyday use so that no one will suspect anything. And what better, therefore, to disguise this substance but as bright pink chewing gum!”
“Chewing gum?” she repeated.
“Yes, chewing gum,” said the Professor with a cheery smile.
“Oh dear!” said the posh lady. “As a lady of the realm I never chew gum. Disgusting habit if you ask me. Sounds terrible!”
“No, not terrible, incredible!” continued the Professor, throwing his hands up into the air as he spoke. “Everyone knows that gum is sold in the city. It’s not difficult to get it and we can all easily chew it.”
“Correction Professor!” said Lady Pluggat, sitting up very straight. “Some people easily chew gum, but it’s a habit that I personally have never tried and do not intend to start.”
“Well you won’t have to chew it for long M’lady,” said the Professor. “It would only have to be twice a day at wash time. Let me show you this.”
He shot off his stool and fetched a large handful of gum from a nearby table.
“All you do is put this new super-duper, super-stretchy bubble gum into your mouth and within a jiffy you’ll be able to blow a bubble as large as your head. Then simply pop the bubble and it will squash back onto your face.”
“But that’s disgusting,” said the lady, putting her hand to her mouth in horror at such a thought. “It’ll get all tangled up in my hair and stuck onto my eye lashes. Really Professor, I think that this time you have gone too far!”
“No M’lady,” said the Professor reassuringly, “there’s a lot of anti-stick properties added to this gum that means it comes straight off your face. The gum itself has cleaning agents and creams in it that will cleanse and moisten your skin at the same time. Just rub it all over your face and the gum will come off into your hands containing all of your facial dirt. Even more importantly, the authorities in the city will never know.”
Lady Georgiana Pluggat-Lynnette sat and stared at the bright pink gum that was in the Professor’s hand but said nothing. Everything within her, her noble upbringing, her education, her position in the city, taught her to revile the substance that was before her. The Professor could see that she was thinking very hard about the gum and that she didn’t like the idea at all.
“Look, I’ll show you how it works,” said the Professor. “George, where are you?” he called, looking down the room, but George was nowhere to be seen.
“Er, I think he’s just gone to one of the back store rooms sir,” said one of the assistants, who at the same time was trying to look inextricably engrossed in his own work.
The Professor looked around him and saw that, for some reason, most of his assistants had quietly left the room.
“Oh,” said the Professor, looking a little disappointed. “Oh all right,” he said, “I’ll do it myself,” and with that he popped the gum into his mouth and began to chew, at the same time smiling reassuringly at Lady Pluggat.
“I would at this stage normally just lick the gum and then rub it straight onto my face,” he said, between chews. “But I think that as I’m demonstrating this to your very good self I’d better show you its full effects. If the gum is chewed, as I am doing now, then the saliva in my mouth works with the dung beetle powder to release a stronger cleaning effect. All I have to do now is to blow a big bubble.”
“I’m sorry Professor,” said the lady, already feeling a little off colour. “Did I hear you say ‘dung beetle’?”
But the Professor was already blowing a very large, bright pink bubble which he promptly popped with his finger and rubbed the gum all over his face. Lady Pluggat just stared at him with an ‘I'm going to be sick’ sort of expression etched across her countenance.
On the Professor’s face sat the gum, like rippling lumps of runny ice cream. It began to bubble in places making a squidgy and squelchy sound as the different chemicals reacted with each other. The Professor called for a mirror and a small hand-held one was handed to him. He looked at his reflection, admiring the gum with great pride and pleasure as it worked to clean his skin.
“My greatest achievement,” he thought to himself.
He then smiled and beamed at Lady Pluggat like a veteran soldier wearing his honorary medals.
“Does it hurt?” Lady Pluggat eventually asked, looking concerned.
“Not at all,” replied the Professor. “It does have a far more dramatic effect though when you chew it first.”
The Professor picked a little of the bubbling gum off the side of his face and held it out to Lady Pluggat.
“Here,” he said. “I’ll pop this into the palm of your hand and you can see for yourself.”
Lady Pluggat hesitated, not sure that she actually wanted something squidgy that had been in the Professor’s mouth put in her hand, but she finally forced herself to receive the sample. It sat there on her skin bubbling away; the gum was warm and tingling and felt like a thousand tiny mouths sucking and nibbling on her palm. The Professor was right, it didn’t hurt, but all the same it was a very strange feeling.
Once she felt that she’d allowed the gum to remain on her hand long enough to show some measure of respect for the Professor’s experiment, she hurriedly brushed it off and examined her palm. Now there was fresh clean skin showing through and the sight of this was quite surprising.
“Now all I need to do is to count to twenty and then to remove the gum,” continued the Professor.
“Why to twenty?” she replied, in a cautious tone. The gum on the Professor’s face had now turned a deep purple and the sight still made Lady Pluggat feel quite nauseated.
“Well,” he said, trying to find just the right words, “we have found that at around twenty the gum must come off otherwise… there can be complications.”
“Complications?” echoed Lady Pluggat, now beginning to feel quite unsettled and that this absurd experiment was unquestionably flawed.
“Oh, nothing to worry about,” said the Professor, smiling sweetly and brushing the comment aside as if it was of little importance. “We’ll have it fixed quite soon. All that happens is that after a count of twenty the gum’s anti stick properties do tend to start to reverse; a chemical U-turn which creates an unexpected and unwanted glue-like effect. Rather annoying really. It took us quite by surprise when it first happened, but we’ve recently made some good progress and though it’s not altogether conquered, I think we’ll have it fixed soon I hope.”
“You hope?” echoed Lady Pluggat again.
“Well true science is always full of obstacles, holdups and surprises, don’t you think?” replied the Professor. “There are always hurdles to get over if we are to complete the course - and risk, adaptation and modification are just part of the process to get there. And, as I said to George when we first came across this particular gum sticking problem, ‘George my lad’ I said, ‘Who needs eyebrows anyway?’”
The Professor then turned to look at his assistants, to see if anyone else was laughing with him from his last comment, but when he found no-one had joined in his bit of fun, he then asked, “Well, who’s counting and what number are we up to?”
The assistants looked up from their work and then at each other. Seeing nothing in each other’s faces they just stared blankly back at the Professor.
“Well,” he said again. “Who’s counting?”
But the assistants had nothing to say.
“What!” exclaimed the Professor, when he saw their vacant expressions.
“Well don’t just stand there,” he added, springing to life and beginning to scrape at the gum with his fingers. “Quick, help me get this stuff off.”
And with those words all the assistants stepped forward to take a hold of the gum. They pulled and tugged and pulled and tugged, but it wouldn’t move. It was solidly stuck, fastened like a limpet; glued to the Professor’s forehead, chin, cheeks, ears and nose.
“Oh my!” said the Professor, wondering what on earth he was going to do.
The Waterworks of Clear Wash City
A note for anyone thinking of purchasing my book…
If you feel you need to get a more indepth overview of each book before purchasing then look at the Synopsis and Core Conflict virtual books below. Be aware, however, that you will gain an insight into the book’s storyline which may reduce the pleasure of the final read.
A remote city population, held captive by a schizophrenic dictator, tries to gain their freedom from suppressive rule by seeking to restart a broken down waterworks that sits on the edge of the city boundary.
Erepsin Ville is becoming incredibly wealthy whilst his subjects are on a downward spiral from poverty to servitude. Each day they have to purchase their water ration (only enough to drink to keep you alive and not enough to wash with) and each day they also have to purchase some quite disgusting lotions, created by Mr E himself, which they have to apply to themselves to keep them from being smelly. Mr E seems to delight, however, in making the “official fragrances of the state” smell absolutely terrible. In order to enforce his law that all must wear his fragrances. Mr E sends out his sniffer squads into the streets on a regular basis, using their steam powered sniffer devices, so no one seems to be able to get away with not wearing them.
The people of Clear Wash City would do better if they created a single united front against their enemy but with eighty two official and unofficial rebel committees and sub-committees they hardly pose a unified threat. There is one rebel council however, which has recently emerged from amongst the crowd and this group seems to now speak for the majority of the rebellion. Rising through the ranks of this council is a young lady from the nobility who has caught everyone’s attention. This story follows the many ridiculous attempts by the population of Clear Wash City to wash, without using water and without being discovered. It finally trails the covert operation of a gang of four who enter the old waterworks in an attempt to get it working again This would remove their dependency on their leader’s private supply and facilitate revolution. The waterworks, however, was built on advanced ancient technology and, after disaster strikes, they have to learn that there is a price to pay for freedom and that sometimes the most unexpected deed will lead to salvation.
The story begins with Mr Erepsin Ville (or Mr E as he is called) attending the public trial of Sir Frederick James III, leader of the underground resistance. After being found guilty Sir Frederick is publically flushed out of the city by Mr E’s contraption, called the Free Flowing Foamy Flusher machine. The story then follows the actions of Lady Georgiana Pluggat Linette, Basil, the Professor and Scrub and the part they play in the underground resistance.
We briefly discover that the city is being watched by outsiders from the mountains that overlook the great metropolis. Then the story moves on to an underground bunker where the professor is seeking to solve the 'need to wash without being caught' problem. He is doing this by trying to make a soap disguised as chewing gum. Lady Georgiana Pluggat Linette briefly visits to catch up on their progress before coming back to the city inner circle to report to the rebel committee, and at the same time narrowly misses disaster in the bunker due to exploding gum.
The people gather in the city market square and go through the motions of Mr E selling his smelly lotions and potions which everyone has to wear. After some ludicrous poetry to describe each item, one is finally chosen and the people are forced to put it on. Lady Pluggat then moves on to a meeting of the rebel council where she is made the head of the undercover resistance in the place of Sir Frederick. Put quite on the spot by this, she is asked what she will be doing to restore water back to the city. The outcome of the meeting is a covert trip to the waterworks led by her and her three companions...
**If you are a literary agent or a publisher and you wish to request the full overview then please use the online form provided at the bottom of the website page.**
The Book’s Core Conflict
A city population held captive to a schizophrenic dictator.
Due to his growing mental instability, however, the multitude of new laws being made are now becoming quite bazar and difficult to live by – a general ban on washing being one of them and another, having to purchase each day the official lotions of the state sold to the people by Mr Erepsin Ville himself. Through these laws and his Free Flowing Foamy Flusher machine, (with which he performs his public medieval styled executions), Mr Erepsin Ville, or Mr E as he prefers to be called, holds the people in an iron grip; rewarding those who are loyal to him and hunting down any who would offer resistance. Life is a mess for anyone who wants to have a normal existence.
There are four main characters in the story. These all have their own reasons for wanting the city free again. The book follows their disastrous adventure over four day period to rescue the people and be rid of the dictator by restarting the waterworks to gain their own water supply. **If you are a literary agent or a publisher and you wish to request the full overview then please use the online form provided at the bottom of the website page.**
Here are a few illustrations based on the characters from The Waterworks of Clear Wash City put together by Lucy, a student at Grimsby college.
Eastrington Primary School have sent in some great images illustrating steam punk characters from the book. Below you can see drawings of Mr E and Lady Georgiana Pluggat-Lynette.
Summer clubs – the setting where it began
Tim Waters stepped out onto his new literary horizons in the mid-1990s. He began to run annual ‘custard slinging‘ Summer clubs with his wife for children aged 7-12 and, as a result, found himself writing short plays for the children to watch. Firstly here are a few images of Tim being “gooed” over the years during the annual Summer club weeks.
The Story Began as a Summer Club Drama Script
One of the plays that Tim wrote was called “The Water Works of Clear Wash City.” The young audience so enjoyed the wacky adventure that he decided to turn it into a book. Many years later Tim has now developed and moulded the storyline into a mature text ready for people of all ages to read. Even though Tim is not a professional artist, here are a few of his drawings that depict events in the book. Cick on the image below to zoom in on the pictures.
Book two, the Fall of Clear Wash City, starts off where book three, the Silence of Clear Wash City, also begins. It is the time in the city’s history called ‘the silence’, and you quickly get the impression that all is not well. On the surface everything looks fine. All in the city has been put back into order and there isn’t a spot of dirt to be seen, but the silence that dominates the atmosphere is not normal. Instead of the everyday hustle and bustle, there’s no-one around and human life seems almost extinct. We eventually find Lady Georgiana Pluggat-Lynette, sitting in the solitude of her home, waiting to be arrested. Before the plot develops, however, she pens an open letter to the city populous for the purpose of telling the tale of how they got into this terrible state. She writes…
“For when those most culturally refined and gracious wolves recently entered our land, we welcomed them with open arms and paid no heed to the rattling and tugging of our consciences that sprang to life as we followed in their wake. Now today, that which once was so glorious, being restored to us by royal command, is again fallen and gone. A city lost in itself and broken through misguided desire and perverted intent.”
From this she begins her story but makes it clear that, in order for her to explain why the city is again fallen, she needs to trace back its current problems to its roots. These roots go right back to the time of her childhood, before Erepsin’s rule, and so she describes the civil war that took place in her teenage years and the difficult decisions she had to make along the way – and how Erprsin Ville (Mr E) rose to power out of the following chaos that engulfed them.
Once the story is told she puts down her pen and finds that her home is under seige. It is then that Stephanus (Scrub) turns up to help…
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Clear Wash City sat in the middle of a most inhospitable desert and shimmered in the baking heat. Whilst basking in the sun’s dazzling brightness, she momentarily roused herself from her deep slumber and yawned. Stretching out her stone limbs in lazy surrender, she relaxed her rock-like members in the brilliance of the morning light. It was hot! The oven dial pointed to a fiery roast and all around the air was a-stir; a moving, swaying, rippling mass that wobbled in the scorching breeze, stimulated and enthused by the engulfing temperature. Sitting beneath this blistering hotness the city closed her tired eyes and dozed. All seemed peaceful and very quiet. Having dissipated the night-time chill with her radiant, fiery beams, the great golden globe looked down from the firmament above and smiled. It gave her great satisfaction to see every part of the wide blue expanse saturated with her goodness; to see once again her dominance in the heavenly realms established and her reign unchallenged. Now she poured out from on high her sweltering kindnesses onto the many houses, streets and market squares below that belonged to the great metropolis. Like a weaned child under the care of an attentive mother, the city mumbled a half-hearted greeting to the world and then, after muttering something briefly under her breath, rolled over to continue her slumbering. Relaxing in the muggy warmth, she felt safe in the overbearing caresses of temperate, affectionate cordiality.
To the baked streets that were used to this kind of extreme heat, all seemed comfortable, agreeable and most satisfactory. To the human eye, looking on at the many dwellings and habitations scattered across the city, all was in place, an environment that was both neat and correct, kept with an immaculate fine-tuned efficiency, micro-managed down to the smallest detail. The city buildings were clean, well-ordered, and the many parks and open spaces showed off a landscape that was lush and green. The historical turnaround looked complete and at last sustained. No smog, no smoke and dirt it seemed was a thing of the past. Cleanliness was the word that came to mind, shouted from the rooftops even, and if cleanliness (which is next to godliness) was the aim of the day, then this was a successful city; a locality that fulfilled its divine call and put into practice that which it vigorously and religiously preached.
Looking across the skyline at the houses, parks, market squares, malls, mills, hills and canals, you could see that it was a place of no nonsense and no compromise. It was as if a dedicated army of fanatical cleaning technicians made sure that every spot of every surface was washed, polished and shone. Purity was now the new romance. For those in charge it was the latest and greatest expression of heart-throbbing eye-candy; a coalition of habitations, industrial workshops and public spaces that together cast a charismatic allure, hypnotising the visitor with its perfect edifices, shapes and architectural masterpieces. A wonder to behold, it all worked like a neatly fitted jigsaw to form a seamless and impeccable picture. If it were an anthem, then it would sing out its tune in perfect harmony. If it were an engine, then it would have purred with pleasure; a perfectly balanced, precision made, well-oiled machine. This was success on a scale rarely imagined let alone realised. To any that saw the big picture, who understood the grand utopian plan, they could feel nothing but the tingling satisfaction of a romantic and idealistic vision fulfilled.
This too was the perspective of the burning sun who watched from on high in the expanse of the sky and followed each day her faithful course across the heavens. But this champion of the heights lived so distant above the capital that her evaluations and assessments were obviously limited. Just as a dictator only sees the broad picture painted before him (standing on his balcony to overlook the cheers and applause of his troops, officials and specially selected populace; not seeing those places off limits to the dictatorship’s propaganda machine, the realities of poverty and starvation, oppression and fear) so it was from the bright shining sun’s standpoint as she daily watched the scenes unfold in Clear Wash City. “All is well,” would be the sun’s repeating mantra from her far-off vantage point – but these things can only be clearly seen from the ground. As always the ‘devil was in the detail’ and this ‘devil’ had run riot in the city streets for many weeks and months, perhaps years.
One of those ‘on-the-ground’ details lay just outside the city’s front gates. There the historic remains of a great riverbed ran its deep channel into the hardened rock where a gushing waterway had previously carved out a passage of life years before. Now only trickles of water meandered and tiptoed over those smoothed pebbles and rounded stones where once a torrent had flowed. The eminent and illustrious river was subdued. The thirsty desert had drunk for so many-a-season of the river’s great banquet of abundant supply that at one time it was actually rumoured to be ready to yield up its territory to the continuous flood – but now the sand was back and the ground panted for just a sip of water.
Back in the city, blubbering pools of wet mud briefly appeared each morning throughout the streets and lanes where once fountains of water had spouted and flowed (these ever-emerging muddy overflows were quickly cleaned up by an army of volunteers nicknamed the S.P.L.O.D.G.E. team, ‘splodge’ meaning the ‘Sanitisation and Purification of Leaking and Oozing by Disinfecting with Germicidal Engineering’). Memories of those crystal-clear powerful and gushing sprays were now faded, and perhaps it was just a dream or the beginnings of a legend that they once fed the city with fresh, vibrant and clean water. It was so sad to see such strong springs of life reduced to a mere whimper. In their place large industrial pipes had been used to cap these untamed sources and the water was now restrained and piped in a more civilised way that allowed the population to control their flow; though the water pressure was not what it used to be and sometimes a mere dribble was all that they got from their new business venture. This wasn’t, however, the most disturbing thing about Clear Wash City. Disappointing might be a word chosen to describe the lack of bubbling brook and absent watercourse but deficient would be a better word to describe the derelict human life that existed within the confines of the city walls.
It was rush hour, time to be busy, but instead of hustle and bustle a muted noiselessness draped itself over the subdued capital. Like a miasma of gloomy desolation, this heavy silence splayed itself across the airwaves like a saturating and polluting smog that would not shift or move, even though it was a bright and hot spring morn. Amidst the great heat, you could still feel the chill of the quietness and hush as if it were an eerie calm preparing the way for a great thunderstorm, a tempest or typhoon. So invasive was this hush and stillness that it pervaded not only the parks, canals, avenues and gardens, but the back alleys and market squares too - everywhere where humanity should be, and yet was not.
Even the wind was lost. Normally this rousing gust of activity found its blustery bearings by passing in-between and around a busy humanity. It loved to run from person to person, from child to adult, from families and friends to groups of boisterous teenagers. All together they created a variety of gaps and narrow spaces that forced the breeze to squeeze here and there as it made its daily journey across the city. Human bustle made life in this place interesting, colourful and fun to navigate. Now, chasing its echoes down the winding lanes and cobbled corridors, the solitary breeze whistled its way through the streets looking and searching for signs of life. No coats to tug, no hats to blow off, no children to laugh and play with – it tarried for a moment on its broken hearted and lonesome path to cast a glance at the disappointing emptiness, then on it continued, finally reaching the outskirts of the city walls, untouched and unmoved by those it sought out.
It wasn’t that the absence of any noise itself was a problem or that the stillness and quiet was somehow unexpected, it was something else; this peculiar, subdued tranquillity that now hung in the atmosphere showed a locality holding its breath. The city suffered not so much from a shortage of noise but rather a scarcity of sound. The lack of clamour from workmen and the non-existent din of a crowd revealed a city in starvation; a famine of racket, uproar, tumult, shouting, agitation, hubbub and hullabaloo. This strange singularity of deprived commotion gave off a silence that was so deafening it demanded being listened to, so loud that you had to strain your ear to hear anything at all, for there was indeed nothing to hear. Nothing, that is, except perhaps the odd chirp from the early morning bird who sought to tell everyone that he’d been up for hours and that, if they were not very careful, he would be the only one to show his face that day.
Sound had packed its bags and left, a withdrawal of noise that was the embodiment of abandonment. Where it had gone and why, was a question anyone could ask, but there wasn’t anyone to ask. Perhaps the answer lay in the presence of a great, invisible, fat lady, a woman of drunken pleasures, called ‘motionlessness’ who sat in the main square. Next to her was her sister called ‘dearth’. Together they made up the new ideological order of the day and their presence ensured that all hopes and dreams that would normally stir the human soul to life on such a fine morn were dulled and sedated. Noiselessness now ruled over the activities of what might be called the ‘living humanity’ that existed throughout the hours of daylight. Living the population might be, but ‘human’ or indeed ‘humane’ is not a word that should be used to describe their deeds.
For the citizens of Clear Wash City were all dreamily shut away behind closed doors. Cosy, clean, contented and chilled, the good life was here and no-one was going to take it from them. Like a mind drug, shrouding vision and insight, the silence that had infiltrated the lives of these people, the general populace, was comforting. They slept so peacefully and every morning it was the same. It didn’t matter that your sleep had been slightly interrupted at dawn when doors were kicked in and soldiers made their arrests and those few voices of dissent were marched off to who knows where. Betraying others the night before, to prove your loyalty to the new regime, would guarantee a supply of food, limited exclusive commodities and entertainment for hours; followed by a sleep-in that subsequent morn which imitated the life of a spoilt millionaire. Party, sleep, rest and more perpetual play to follow, a cycle of quick immediate pleasures, exhilarating and thrilling, bringing instant gratification to the soul. The body, however, worn out by this constant activity, could chill and find its rest throughout the following hours of daylight, getting ready to do it all over again when evening came. So the night life was found to be better than the day, for it held the keys of happiness and contentment; strange that this had become the final conclusion of the city’s enlightened citizens. Education, it seemed, didn’t hold the keys to wisdom and insight, just to a dictatorship of what is called ‘current thinking’ which pays no homage to the realities of the life that surrounds us. Now, for the people of Clear Wash City who were drenched in the new ideology, the day had nothing to offer them but the song of blank vacancy that played itself out to the background beat of snores from an exhausted people.
There was a sound, however, that did sometimes slip into this blank space of empty life. It meandered its way on the breeze, across the open air, in what was once a more affluent part of the city (now considered a little old fashioned and frumpy); a cheery tune, highly at odds with the rest of the dulled quiet that surrounded it. The city’s stillness tried to suffocate this irritatingly happy intrusion but the melody persisted, undeterred and unrepentant – despite the strong disapproval that surrounded it. The tune’s delightful message leaked into the atmosphere from the back of a grand mansion. To be precise, through a second floor window, left slightly ajar. Behind the window, a small room, and the source of the charming jingle, a horn of an old and rusted Victoria record player that magnified and fed the agreeable sound into the air. The player’s receiver head floated gracefully along its prescribed path on the grooves of the vinyl disk like a beautiful skater performing a well-rehearsed routine; that is till it bounced up and down where the record had warped slightly and the tune being played wobbled in protest. The lively notes that did manage to get played correctly, however, soothed their way through the room’s stillness, leaving it enriched by its joyous sound.
The furnishings within the small chamber were comfortable enough, two leather backed armchairs facing each other opposite an open hearth that hospitably housed the remaining embers of a night-time glowing fire. If there had been a normal peacefulness in the air you would have thought the environment homely, sociable and even jolly. Indeed, to the stranger’s eye, the first impressions of the room would bring ideas of sweet friendship and cordiality. Outside, however, the descended silence had nothing to do with serenity.
At a table, set just behind one of the armchairs, sat a lady of the realm. The sharp and pointed expression etched across her face hid her normal gentle features that were so familiar to the people amongst whom she lived. She was a woman with a task before her, one that she would rather not do. Taking a few moments to mentally prepare herself for the job at hand, she briefly rested her mind and then picked up a silver quill, dipped it into a small bottle of ink, and penned the following:
“Lady Georgiana, daughter of Lady Melanie Lynette and Lord Stephen Pluggat,
To the people of Clear Wash City, set free and made clean by the King’s liberty and grace. To those whom I love, who have so grown in my heart and who I now hold with such tender care and great affection.
My dear friends,
It is with great anguish and turmoil within that I write for you this short account of those things that have so recently been fulfilled amongst us. I do this now so as to not lose my voice in the midst of this present chaos. In writing this, I am very aware that it is not only a short history of a season past that I record, but also my personal farewell to those of you that remain once I am gone. For I sense and feel that my time here is drawing to an end and that I shall soon pass through and beyond the veil that separates our world from the next.”
Lady Georgina Pluggat’s silver quill scratched the ink across the page as she continued to write. Her manner of authoring was harsh, almost severe, holding the quill’s spine tightly to scrawl each letter, each word, as it came to mind. The duty set before her wasn’t easy. No-one likes to write about any measure of failure, let alone one that stems from a fortune lost, but this assignment had to be completed. So, forcing the inked nib to move on the paper, she mentally stamped onto the tea-stained parchment the story she had to tell.
“I want you to know,” she wrote, “that I have spent myself for you and the good cause of our great and noble city. Yet, before this silver chord is severed and I step into a more eternal place, whilst I am still in this human tent of a body, I wish to continue to pour out that which remains of my life; in so doing I hope that you may all drink well and deep from our communal cup that was passed onto us by the good King himself, to carry on in his name.
The silence, as it is now commonly called, is here. I can almost feel it in this room as I write. Its gentle quietness lingers and lurks at the doorways to each of our houses and homes and even now, after all this time, few heed its arrival. Perhaps one day there may be a time when we can all sit back and reflect, to consider that which we should have done to prevent its entry, so that never again will we make the mistakes that have so clearly been made amongst us. I fear, however, that I will not be one of those few who have the privilege to partake in such an occasion, if any such occasion is to be found. Victims we all are, and victims we will remain.
For when those most culturally refined and gracious wolves recently entered our land, we welcomed them with open arms and paid no heed to the rattling and tugging of our consciences that sprang to life as we followed in their wake. Now today, that which once was so glorious, being restored to us by royal command, is again fallen and gone. A city lost in itself and broken through misguided desire and perverted intent. Such a depth of agony and despair fills me now when I reflect upon this glory so departed; lost and forgotten by those to whom it should have stayed and remained with forever.
Wisdom, it seems, does not belong to the philosopher or the scholar. Not to the intelligent or those adept at attaining success. Nor does it belong to those who busy themselves with the many matters of life’s callings. Wisdom is a small, gentle voice that speaks quietly and persistently. It does not bow its knee to the human soul or chase recognition from culture or power. It will not fall subject to a false smile or a handshake from those who deliver rewards. Wisdom never changes, and those who embrace it find themselves kept safe; and so indeed we would be today - if we had but listened to its call.
Yes it is very true that for many a year we enjoyed a great peace and prosperity under the rule of our wonderful King, and to this recent past I will initially refer as I write. He had saved us from a slavery to which none of us had the answer and brought us into a spacious place, full of good things, which in turn gave a joy that tasted of eternity itself. Our victory had been won for us, the weak rescued from the strong and an opportunity for us to enter into it ourselves. Yet I began to perceive that, despite our freedom, the people took little opportunity to grow. I now understand that victories not only have to be welcomed by those who are rescued, they have to be received, grasped and made their own. Yet we, disturbed by ancient flaws, quickly gave way to being fat with wealth and so deluded with self-honour that we forgot the one from whom it all came. Before long we were nothing but a delusionary drunkard, gazing over his sparkling bottle of addiction and kissing it, as if it were life and freedom itself. Reason was dead, wisdom departed and confusion held the keys of opportunity and decision.
However, before I talk of such things and bring them into clear view, I find I must step back a little and prepare the ground; for our failings in this matter do not originate from the time of our recent straying. The roots of our current sufferings run much deeper, and it is these that need our attention. I have often found that the roots of our beginnings point us to where we should finally go. It is the roots that hold up the tree and, once corrupted and compromised, is only a matter of time before the great oak begins its fall.
Our ruin began early in my childhood but was made manifest several years later in my youth. I remember it well. The culmination of which was to be found in the last day I saw my city in its former glory. On that day I held in my hands both my innocence and childlike trust. It was also the last day I saw, face to face, my most honourable father. The sun had risen that morning amidst a dusty, purple haze, as unnatural as breathing the polluted air that surrounded us. Upon first seeing it, I knew we faced difficult times. Something was coming, though I discerned not its substance. As I stood, looking out across the skyline of our homes, I perceived we were at a doorway, an opening, a gap in our monotonous history; one that presented itself at the end of a long and narrow one-way street – a destination that we had long chosen, and from which we could not run.”
Lady Georgiana stopped her writing and laid her quill down for a moment. Her will was set, this task she now performed was to be completed, but it was almost impossible to continue without taking a breather. Eventually she picked up her quill again and wrote some more, detailing how the war broke out that morning. She recalled how a war of words had been raging for many a year, but to this day weapons of war were added to the argument and many lives were lost.
“What I didn’t know,” she wrote, “was that the sunrise I beheld that morning, would be the last I would see for many a day, if not many a week.”
Down went the quill again and she closed her eyes. There she could see painted pictures, scenes of devastation imprinted on the canvas of her mind; vivid images clinging to her imaginations – flowing from a place that was deeply embedded in her soul. She could see the tumbled down walls of buildings and the rubble that lay scattered across the streets. The shouting and bellowing, the cries and tears and she could still hear the boom, boom, boom of shells that were fired across the sky. She drifted into a semi-sleep and everything from the past became very clear.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
“Hold the line! Hold the line!” a voice shouted through the dust filled air.
The empty spaces in streets and communal squares where humans normally walked were now occupied by thick clogs of choking fumes. Once busy with friends saying their “hellos” these same marketplaces, courtyards and malls were now filled with a haze of turmoil and destruction. Between the floating and drifting smog, shadows of figures dashed and darted from hiding place to hiding place, seeking refuge and a space where they could perhaps remain alive for just a few more moments. Ducking here and darting there, they made their way across the maze of streets to places where they could find sanctuary. It had been like that for several hours now, a stream of scurrying refugees all running for their lives. Only recently had they found solace when the shelling slowed to an occasional boom rather than the regular pounding that had been the drum beat of the day.
Among them the wounded, the disheartened and the emotionally damaged - they sought the haven of medical staff or the advice of newly elected military leaders who knew nothing of war. You could see them, the scatterings here and there of moaning individuals or groups or pairs of comforting friends, each trying to find their way down unfamiliar streets that they’d walked on for many a year, picking their way through the holes and debris that were scattered across their paths; a bedazzled humanity, wandering targets, stupefied by deafened eardrums and minds filled with images that the eye should not see.
There were many heroes that day. Not the kind often celebrated in action films who are expert at killing others, filled with a rage and madness that somehow passes itself off as an accomplishment to take multiple lives. No, the saviours of the day were actually the quiet ones who herded the weak into safety or those people who found themselves out of their depths - who did jobs that they did not understand and yet, whilst not knowing what to do or what would happen next, still stuck to their tasks until they were somehow done or someone else turned up to take over from them. Each of these did their duties amongst the lives of so many broken people and kept going till they could give no more.
One such person was a middle aged man; at least you thought he was middle aged. When needed to he could run fast enough (to dodge the shots that were fired at him) and he could lift up those who were wounded in his arms and carry them off to where they needed to be. But once the day was almost over he walked with a stupor that conveyed the look of someone twice his age; a man on whom the world had driven across and ploughed deep its furrows into his very bones.
Sitting down and putting his head in his hands, he thought there was nothing else he could give. A doctor of science by profession, he had spent the day playing the role of a doctor of medicine. Person upon person he had treated till he was numb with grief and tired beyond exhaustion. Giving relief and strength to the wounded and comfort to the distraught, he felt that he’d handed his life over many times to those who grieved around him. It was only moments later, however, that the sound met his ears of another body dropping and thudding onto the ground nearby. Against all his emotions he stirred himself to action, dragging his heart back into place to get up and deal with his next patient. Walking over he saw the frame of a young woman, perhaps a teenage girl, slumped in a heap. There she was, her clothes blackened and her face and hair covered with dust and debris. Despite the dirt that plastered her face, however, the man immediately recognised her and his heart broke all over again.
Taking her hand gently in his, he checked her pulse and then the rest of her for wounds. To his great relief he found that she wasn’t dying. He leaned over her and gently wiped her face and brow. Slowly she came round. Sweat poured off the young lady whilst her mouth ran dry with dehydration. Her face twitched nervously and the tension she felt caused her to grind her teeth together, as if to stifle some great discomfort. Gradually her sluggish mind came into focus and her surroundings became familiar.
“Oh dad!” she said, once the haze had gone a little from her eyes and she could see who was attending her.
“Steady,” he said, in a calm tone.
“Oh dad!” she blurted again, but she either couldn’t find the words to say or was unable to speak.
“Stay calm,” replied her father, giving her a quick peck-of-a-kiss on the forehead. “You must stay calm.”
The girl tried to speak again but she was either overcome by some kind of fear or doubt or perhaps just the pain that she currently felt.
“I’m going to put you out,” her father said. “This will hurt only for a few moments. Then you’ll see me again when you come round.”
The girl shook her head.
“Must listen,” she said trying to sit up. “You don’t know…” but the words still didn’t come out.
“Stay still,” he replied. He placed his hand behind the back of her head and, with his other hand under her chin, helped her to rest her head back onto the grassy bank upon which she lay.
She breathed in some quick short breaths for a few moments and coughed out some dirt from the side of her mouth. Her eyes flickered and spun upwards, gazing almost into the top of her eyelids, before closing them to breathe a little more easily. The man fumbled through his jacket pockets, searching frantically for something. Eventually he located a syringe and a sachet of liquid. With trembling fingers he opened the packet and began to suck the watery solution into the needle’s cylinder.
The girl came round again and noticed her father preparing her injection.
“No,” she whispered through a dried up mouth, her throat sounded hoarse with thirst.
Her father ignored her and continued to finish preparing the needle. Seeing that she didn’t have much time she shook her head from side to side as if to try to overcome the pain that shot through her body. Her efforts finally brought forth a burst of tears, but crying was also too painful to do.
“Stay still,” her father said, a little more firmly this time as he took hold of her arm.
There was panic in the girls face.
“You don’t know what’s coming,” she finally said, in great anguish; just getting the words out brought another overflow of tears.
“Georgiana,” the man said. “You must stay still.”
The girl was determined, however, not to do as she was told.
“I have seen it,” she blurted out. “Dad, I have seen it with my own eyes.”
More tears streamed down her cheeks.
“You must get away from here, right now,” she said. “There’s no time…” but the sentence wasn’t completed.
The man finished giving his daughter the injection and seemed to be relieved when she was out cold.
“I need a stretcher!” he eventually cried out.
A few moments later two men appeared carrying a stretcher between them.
“Dead or alive?” asked one of them, in a manner too casual to be polite.
The girl’s father just stared at them and, when they recognised him, dropped their flippant stance and almost stood to attention.
“This one is very much alive,” he said, in a purposeful tone. “Take my daughter to the bunker and make her comfortable.”
The men, slightly stunned by the news of whom they were to carry off, hurriedly set the stretcher by the girl and carefully placed her twisted frame onto it. After they had lifted her up from the ground her father briefly leant over his daughter.
“Goodbye my sweetheart,” he said, and kissed her cheek. Then he whispered something into her ear, ran his fingers through her hair, and stood back to watch her being carried off.
The stretcher bearers disappeared over a fresh bank of earth, recently created by an exploded shell. Once they were gone, the scientist/would-be doctor sat down and bowed his head again between his knees. Shells began to be fired but he didn’t move. He’d reached the point where he felt so hollow that caring about himself seemed of little consequence. Fortunately he still had friends nearby that were able to take charge of him, to lead him by the hand and take him to a place of apparent safety.
“Hold the line! You hear me! Hold the line!” a voice shouted out. Almost immediately the fresh firing of multiple guns rang through the air and the familiar noise of the day started. Boom, boom, boom, the shells dropped out of the sky and scattered across the ancient city streets. Within moments, however, and to everyone’s surprise, the pounding stopped. All was still, nothing moved and no-one spoke. The ragged band of soldiers who still protected that part of the city cast glances at each other, looking for enlightenment or an order saying what to do. Silence whispered something sinister whilst everyone waited for the next assault to re-begin.
Then it started, a noise, a sound. Wailing, it came to life and filled the air with a lonesome and heartless melody; it gave the impression of something awakening in great distress. The droning, tormenting hum rose and fell in the air, like a military warning siren unsure whether to sing its woeful howl or not. From afar to their right other engine sounds joined in, the kick-starting of many machines. More and more commenced and now there seemed to be fresh noise from every part of the horizon.
Off in the distance something stood up. As tall as the buildings that surrounded it, its frame was long and thin. Perhaps it was being supported by long legs, you couldn’t see, but its head was like a brown box covered with indents or small holes. This object was joined by another and then another. They kept popping up till hundreds of them could be counted on the skyline. Slowly the heads of these machines split open and each one released thousands of buzzing insects into the air. Gathering and gathering, the creatures rose in swarms and congregated in their localities, clustering communally as one, till they looked like a mass of teeming hornets or an army of shining locusts.
The small creatures all looked alike, about the size of a man’s hand and coloured a silver-grey. Covering their bodies were a series of metal plates running from tail to head which culminated in a single helmet at the front; covering the creature’s skull and resting on top of a pair of metal tusks that protruded from the left and right sides of its jaw. Each insect had three pairs of legs and a swaying, swishing tale, like that of a scorpion. The buzzing sound emanated from four delicate, almost see-through, wings that flapped and fluttered at a tremendous velocity and, as they flew, their bodies snaked from side to side, clicking and clacking as they went.
Slowly they moved forward, several mountains of fluttering, glistening steel, rising higher into the heavens as if finding their rightful place in and amongst their horde. Then across the city they came, like a flock of birds preparing for a great migration. This collective of buzzing creatures, however, wasn’t going anywhere. After spiralling high in great circular routes, they finally dropped down - flooding the streets and driving out the populace before them. People yelled and screamed. Desperately they tried to get away as the air became thick with the insect’s whirring, humming bodies - but alas, there was no-where to run. The people found themselves covered with the creatures and then, after a quick eye scan, they were either stung, from which the person collapsed to the ground, or were lifted into the air and taken away.
Out from the horizon more great machines made their way down the streets of Clear Wash City blowing flames into the buildings as they went. Insects accompanied these machines too, to capture any people driven out of their hiding place by the fire. At the rear of this military parade smaller machines followed, not to conquer, but to tidy up after the insects had finished their work. It seemed as if this would be the end for the people who now fought for their lives. Strangely enough it wasn’t. It would be later recorded, however, by those who write to tell the tale of history, that this certainly was - the beginning of the end.
The record head stroked the vinyl disc back and forth, back and forth. Lady Georgiana jumped, she had slipped into a sleep that she had not expected. Coming back to herself she saw that the hearth fire was dead and the sun was at high noon. There wasn’t much time for kicking herself for dozing off, so her immediate feelings of self-disappointment didn’t get chance to sit in her emotions. She picked up the record, placed it back into its white sleeve, turned the Victoria player off and again took up her quill. After reading the last few paragraphs to refresh her mind she quickly got up to look out of the window. Scanning the streets and lanes she remained there until she was satisfied that danger wasn’t lurking too nearby and could return to her desk to write.
“The consequences of war that met my eyes have never left me, not for a single day,” she wrote. “How you can measure such a thing as grief is beyond me. All you can do is taste it and let it live inside you till somehow it is lessened in some way by other things. It would be good if schooling or childhood enabled and prepared us for disaster – but sadly that is not possible. I came round that fateful morning to solitude and it would have been better for me if I had chosen its lonely company.”
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The young Georgiana startled herself out of her sleep. It was those few moments of not knowing where she was, and in fact who she was, that caused her initial panic. The light was dim, the stretcher bed on which she lay unfamiliar, and the utter silence that surrounded her (except for the echoes of her first calls for help that bounced back off the metal walls) was cold and unwelcoming. It took a while for her to see clearly. One of her eyes wouldn’t open. The mud on her face had dried her lid shut and she had to spend some time peeling her eyelashes apart before she could ease the rest of the dirt away and so see again. The lack of vision, the cold, the damp, and the gloomy darkened space she found herself in, brought severe feelings of abandonment and vulnerability.
“Hello?” she ventured again, sending another cautious call into the darkness – but still no response. “Hello!” she said, a little louder this time, hoping to hear some footsteps coming in her direction – but none came.
Her legs felt stiff and her knees and side ached from what she thought must have been her long sleep. (She reasoned that she’d slept so heavy she’d been a dead weight, only supported by a shallow mattress and its superficial padding which allowed the bed’s springs to poke into her side, shoulders and thighs). The discomfort, however, grew with each moment that passed and it soon became obvious to Georgiana that the pain she felt was still primarily from her injuries. Her exhaustion, however, got the better of her and within moments she was resting her head back on the cushion that had been propped under her when she had been laid in her current position. Without knowing that is was happening, she closed her eyes again and let her mind drift for a few moments – falling quickly into another sleep.
Hours must have gone by, or that is what Georgiana figured. Her drowsy eyes reopened and were now greeted by a room that, though dull, was not as dark as before. Small shafts of light dropped down from multiple points across the ceiling. It wasn’t artificial light either, more like redirected sunshine from somewhere outside the building. Looking at her surroundings Georgiana at least now understood a little more of where she was. She had been laid to rest in an underground pod, typically used by horticulturalists. These places were created for the growth of delicate foods or plants that grew well in controlled environments, such as rhubarb or mushrooms, where too much light would spoil the crops and just enough illumination could deliver great results. The pods were also used to carefully grow the groceries for some of the finest local restaurants in the city – who boasted an exclusive menu made up from hand-picked, premium ingredients. Pod cuisine was famous for texture and taste and it was always a treat to eat at such a food outlet. However, this wasn’t the sole use of the pods. They were also utilised to nurture and sometimes house rare plants too. No wind to disturb them and no pests or blazing sun, there was many a rich naturalist who had invested in a pod and kept his prize plant collection safe and sound underground. Georgiana had visited a couple once when she and her father had thought about investing in some rare florae, but the only ones available at the time were in a part of the city which her father said was “off limits” for her – which meant it was just that little bit too far away for him to keep an eye on what she was doing; she loved her dad very much but sometimes he could be a little too overprotective, or so she thought.
This pod seemed to be one set apart for specialist herbs. There weren’t any rows of bedding tubs in the room where food crops could be harvested, just a few tables with assorted pots and the odd shrub scattered across them in no particular order. Whoever ran this pod was either a lazy gardener or too busy to tend to his hobby. Perhaps the other rooms adjacent to this one were full of well-tended cuttings and seedlings and this room was just a “potting shed” or storeroom? Either way Georgiana had seen enough to stir herself and get back onto her feet. She hadn’t moved or walked, however, for days and getting up proved to be more of a challenge than she’d expected.
It didn’t take too much time to discover which parts of her hurt the most. She soon learnt which limbs she could move and how to move them without her wincing too much. Eventually, by placing one arm across her rib cage and the other down onto her hip, she found she could steady herself a little and so reduce the pain. This way she was able to manoeuvre her body into a sitting up position. Dizzy from the effort and legs dangling over the side of the bed, she eased her right leg down onto the floor to take the weight before delicately placing her left foot on the ground next to it. Once done, she had to take a few sharp intakes of breath to compensate for the twinges in her left ankle. A crutch would have been welcome but all she could do was to take a single hop towards a chair and grip tightly onto its frame to steady herself. The single leap was most painful and she immediately wished herself back onto the bed again.
Next to the chair, however, was a table, and on the table a couple of plates with bread, biscuits and what looked like a bottle of water. She reached out and hurriedly consumed the dried out bread whilst swigging back what she hoped was just stale water, in order to generate enough mouth moisture to swallow. Finally the biscuits went down and she felt a little more normal. Now it was time to find out where everyone was and, more importantly, to locate her father. So towards the doorway she stumbled, one hand on her hip and the other moving the chair by her side so she could put her weight on it rather than her left leg. Each step became an accomplishment and she looked forward to being able to lean on the door frame with her other arm when she finally got there.
Time went by and she made good progress. Having passed through the doorway her confidence grew as she learnt how to use the chair effectively by her side. Down three corridors she went and then found a set of steep steps going up into the open air. Even before she placed her foot onto the first step, however, her nose turned up at what was outside. The smell, wafting in on a sudden breeze, caught her by surprise. Stale and sulphurous, the mixture of burnt buildings and perhaps burnt flesh caused her to hesitate on her mission of discovery. It was not something she was used to and did she really want to know what would cause such an odour? Nevertheless, her hand gripped the iron rail and, with her other hand holding onto the steps above, she placed her left foot onto the first step and hopped her good leg up next to it. This motion repeated itself over and over so that a couple of minutes later she could feel the odorous breeze blowing almost onto her face as the top came into sight. The opening was not large, this main (vertically unlocking) door to the outside world was being kept only a-jar and she would have to heave herself up and squeeze through the top gap; not a prospect that was particularly inviting in her current condition. Her hand gripped the top of the rail one last time and then, with eyes tightly shut from the strain, she forced her legs up the last steps, thrusting her head and torso through the gap and then, with a final pull from her arms and a push from her good leg, she flopped out onto the outside earthen ground.
After wincing for a few moments, knowing that she’d pushed her shattered body too far, she opened her teary eyes to look at her surroundings. Moments later she was bent over on all fours trying to gather her retching stomach. All around her the fallen in numbers too many to count; Custer’s last stand would have been more humane - but pity was not to be found on this battlefield. Everything was burnt, both human and man-made material, blended together as piles of charred debris from fallen and flattened buildings, mixed in with the non-survivors from the war. It was the something the young Lady Georgiana hadn’t imagined before. Devastation was something found in history books and story tales, not on her doorstep. Reality kicked in and childhood was over.
The sky had cleared from whatever had happened days earlier and there were only signs of the fires that had once raged here. Now she could clearly see that this section of the outer circle of the city was completely flattened and all resistance dealt with in a manner that showed no restraint. Off in the distance balloon ships sailed here and there with loud speakers squawking out commands or commentaries at the people below – but they were too far away for the words to be made out clearly. Georgiana finally sat down and wept. There was nothing else to do.
“Oh Dad,” she said to herself. Despair and desperation sat with her, companions you’d rather do without but somehow they’re difficult to get rid of once they’ve arrived. She looked and looked across the skyline, hoping to see her dad walking here and there amongst the debris, but this part of the city seemed abandoned. Minutes went by and Georgiana’s gaze turned from a systematic scan of her surroundings to become more of a lost stare into nothingness. Eventually her steady flow of tears increasingly blurred her vision and she dropped her head to let them run down her face into the fresh puddle that they collectively made on the ground. She didn’t get up and explore, in fact she couldn’t – it was beyond her physical capacity, so she just sat in a helpless state of shock.
The breeze suddenly picked up and the dust and the flaky, charred materials that covered the ground swirled up in great clouds in the air. They eventually settled again spreading these burnt-out flakes-of-war further and wider across the city. Multitudes of these fragments and specks settled and rested on Georgiana’s clothes, face and hair. Again the wind blew and the process happened all over again. Within minutes she began to look like a statue, painted grey from head to foot. Breathing in this mixture of carbonized death also began to bother her. Putting her long sleeve over her mouth and nose to try and filter out some of the stifling and gagging material that clogged up in her throat, she choked and wheezed.
Her coughs, however, were interrupted by an abrupt eruption of airship engines nearby. They fired up from somewhere just behind the nearest set of buildings, about a quarter of mile away to her right. A collection of around twenty ships appeared and sailed straight up into the sky, making their way towards the centre of the city. She hadn’t realised that other people were so close by and the sudden noise of their mechanisms coming to life startled her. Perhaps if she hadn’t been covered with burnt materials she might have been seen, but now she looked as grey as the ground around her and her camouflage was as good as that of any chameleon. The ships flew in formation, creating a crescent moon shape. Using this configuration they methodically worked their way down each section of streets to scan the area below. As they went soldiers would, every now and then, drop overboard on long wires to quickly descend to the ground. Moments later shots would be heard and more fighting took place.
“They still haven’t won,” Georgiana thought to herself, and some measure of hope rose within her. She understood perfectly well, however, that she may be just observing a ‘mopping up job’ after the war where the new city authorities were dealing with any final bits of resistance or loiterers who had not yet been caught.
Alarm sirens wound their droning noise up from somewhere across the other side of the city and one by one, more airships ascended into the sky. They too began searching the streets, steadily making their way towards the devastated area where Georgiana was and where the other ships were close by. Instinct kicked in and she knew it was time to move. Shuffling herself on her bottom back towards the stairs again, she tried to get back through the gap and into the pod. In her hurry, however, she misjudged her last move and partly tumbled down the stairs, grasping onto the rail towards the bottom to break her fall. More tears flowed and she howled for a few moments with the pain. Then she jumped as a pair of hands took her by the shoulders and this was followed by an unexpected hug of some kind. Then a face, a concerned look with tender eyes and “Now then, now then,” came a voice from a mouth that was almost shrouded by a large over grown ginger moustache and beard.
Georgiana found herself quickly comforted and then picked up and carried back into the pod. This time, however, she wasn’t taken into the room where she had slept but another side room where there was plenty of light and many home comforts, but most of all a large leather settee, upon which she was placed. In her tiredness and pain she couldn’t remember too much of the following conversation and goings on.
“What’s your name?” was the first question.
“Georgiana,” came her reply.
“Your face looks familiar,” the man had said.
“My father’s Lord Stephen,” she said.
“So he is, so he is,” came his reply, “and what are you doing in this part of the city?” he enquired.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I passed out giving a message to my father and woke up over here. Do you know where my father is?”
The gentleman ignored her question.
“Well you’re quite lost,” he said. This part of the city has been burnt to a frazzle and there’s no-one here.”
“What happened?” she asked.
“Big fire,” he replied, stating the obvious and added nothing to his answer.
Georgiana found his limited responses to her many following questions a little frustrating. He surrounded her, however, with words and deeds of kindness and gentleness which she found soothing. After a warm drink and more food she rested her head on the arm of the sofa and soon felt a cushion pushed under her for more comfort.
“Thank you,” she said, in a tired tone.
“You’re very welcome,” came the reply.
“Who are you?” she eventually asked.
“Rupert,” he replied, “though most of my friends don’t call me that anymore.”
“What do they call you?” she enquired in a dozy manner.
“Basil,” he said, with a laugh.
Georgiana meant to be polite in her reply saying, “That’s a nice name,” but what came out was, “That’s a strange thing to be called. Why call you that?”
“I love growing Basil,” he said. “That’s what I do.”
“Why?” Georgiana yawned.
“Ocimum basilicum, or Basil, is the greatest of the garden herbs,” he replied. “The word Basil literally means ‘king’ and so it should do with the number of varieties that can be grown.”
Georgiana knew she’d pressed a button in him and this man was now going to talk about his plant passion. Her mind began to fade as he went on and on.
“It is also considered as the king of herbs by many a cook or restaurant chef. My personal favourites are African Blue, Genovese Basil, Siam Queen, Lemon Basil and Red Rubin Basil – also known as Opal Basil. Add excellent taste they do and never fail to bring a strong flavour to good food. My personal ambition is to grow at least ten new species over the next few years and to make a name for myself…”
He stopped when he saw Georgiana’s eyes glaze over.
“Oh I am sorry,” he said. “Get very carried away with myself on certain subjects I do.”
“That’s ok,” she replied. “I’d love to hear more when I’m a little better.”
Basil, however, wasn’t convinced by her last statement but carried on the conversation anyway saying that he was sure it would only take a short time for her to recover and then they could talk about Basil as long as she wanted. With that, the general chat went on between them for a brief period but Georgiana’s replies got more and more muddled as she became overwhelmed with tiredness again.
“What happened out there and where’s my father?” was one of her last questions as she tried again to get some sensible information out of him.
“Now Georgie,” came Basil’s voice in a gentle but firm manner. “You have a good sleep now and we’ll talk some more once you’re rested.”
“Georgie!” she thought to herself, as her last tired thoughts went through her mind. “Where did that name suddenly come from?” She didn’t like the nickname that he’d so quickly given her, especially in such short a time of being acquainted, but his friendly compassions and gentle affections overrode any of her immediate emotional objections. A blanket and pillow were quickly provided and these comforts helped her slip into a deep sleep.
Hours later the young Georgiana came round to find herself staring at a man fast asleep. He was a little tubby round the edges and had a good start on a well-developed stomach. His intakes of breath were deep and after each gasp he blew out a draft of air that made his moustache flutter in the breeze. This ridiculous repeating motion she found strangely reassuring and she gave a little giggle as she watched him. He was sat in a large armchair; limbs sprawled out in front, arms dangling by his side. He wore a tweed jacket and baggy brown trousers that were badly in need of pressing. At the bottom of his legs was a pair of well-worn wellington boots that hadn’t been cleaned in years. Here was a man without ceremony. A ‘take me as you find me’ gentleman who wore his heart on his sleeve. She thought him a nice, rounded teddy bear, whose frame and stature reminded her of a jolly fiction character from her childhood storybooks. One who bumbled through life and meant well, spreading good cheer everywhere he went, but one who wasn’t too efficient at communicating or getting things exactly right. She felt quite safe. This gentle, almost comic-like man, was a good person to be around, despite his inability to have a deep conversation - remembering her brief dialogue with him when they last spoke a few hours earlier.
She watched him for a while before casting her gaze around the rest of the room. The environment matched the man, friendly, practical but quite unkempt. The raggedy surroundings needed a good clean and the tat clearing out. He was obviously a hoarder as well as an investor in plants – the far side of the long room showed a stockpile of miscellaneous junk (bric-a-brac the likes of which Georgiana hadn’t seen before) gathered and piled up against the wall like a squirrel’s stash of winter nuts; one item on top of another, a collection of probably useful items, all tangled up in each other with bits and parts scattered across the floor. Nice as this gentleman may be, Georgiana wasn’t sure that in the long run he was going to be of any use to her in finding her father or influencing the city. This was a man wrapped up in his own life and interests and who obviously needed someone to take care of him, let alone be of any use to anyone else.
There was something about him, however, that kept her heart not entirely closed. Perhaps it was his gentle and persistent kindnesses she had experienced before falling asleep. Whatever he was, he was a little too trusting. There he sat, fast asleep, with a stranger in his room and a city outside that was in the middle of civil war. No alarms on the front door, no locks on the room they were in and an easy chance of being found and arrested by the authorities. No, he wasn’t very good at doing other things in life except that which was his hobby, Georgiana reasoned.
She was just mulling this over when Basil began to stir. He snorted a couple of times and then jerked into a sudden awakened state. His first stare was straight into her eyes. Georgiana briefly dropped her gaze, so as not to alarm him in his waking moments, and then lifted her eyes again and smiled. Basil momentarily took a few seconds to gather his thinking again and then remembered where he was and the guest he had.
“Hello Georgie,” he said, rather embarrassed at finding himself splayed in his chair in what must have been a very indiscreet way. He quickly pulled himself up to sit correctly, wiped his eyes and mouth with his green-fingered, soily hands, and bumbled straight into a conversation.
“Good morning,” he added, rather hastily. “I hope you haven’t been awake too long?”
“Only a few minutes,” she replied.
“And are you feeling any better?” he enquired. Georgiana hadn’t thought about the question much.
“I think so,” she cautiously responded. She turned her attention to herself and after wiggling her toes, fingers and limbs a little she added, “Better than I was, thanks, but I still hurt quite a lot when I move my left leg.”
“Not to worry,” came Basil’s reply. “You rest up now and we’ll have you better in no time I’m sure.”
A few more pleasantries were exchanged between them and Basil got busy with food.
“There’s not much to eat,” he said. “Well,” he added, “by not much I mean not much choice. I’ve got a broth continually on the go in the next room, just keep it gently boiling I do. There’s plenty of it but not much of anything else I’m afraid.”
“Anything would be nice,” Georgiana replied, hoping that she meant what she said.
A few minutes later Basil reappeared from the next room with a tray. He put it on a coffee table and then dragged the table and tray over to where Georgiana was sat. On the tray, a couple of bowls of steaming broth, each of which sat next to a tall glass of yellowy brown liquid with a foamy white top.
“Broth and beer,” said Basil.
“Oh, thank you,” said Georgiana.
“Not much I know,” continued Basil, “but it’s the best I can do in the circumstances. I hope you like beer, brew it myself I do in my spare time.”
Georgiana had never tasted beer before and the smell of the hops already turned her nose. She was hungry and thirsty, however, and did her best to engage with what was before her. The broth was surprisingly nice, and reminded her of a story about a ship’s cook who kept the broth cooking for all of the time he was on voyage – putting the left overs into it to make the most tasty of stews. The beer, however, wasn’t nice but she hid the gut feeling she had by putting the broth spoon quickly into her mouth after each sip.
Basil sat next to her and tucked in too. It wasn’t long before his beard and moustache had a good dose of beer foam and broth in and amongst them. His loud sipping on his broth spoon and slurps on his beer glass at first irritated Georgiana a little, but it wasn’t long before she was laughing at his generous conversation and jolly mannerisms, which ended in both of them laughing when Basil missed his mouth with his drink and split the liquid down his chin and front. Georgiana picked up a napkin and handed it to him.
“Sorry,” said Basil, wiping himself down.
“Beer, beards and broth,” said Georgiana in reply. “Who could want for more?
“Beer, beards and broth,” echoed Basil, as if making a celebration toast, and so the meal went on and the conversation continued.
Basil finally added a question into the chitchat that had been puzzling him.
“So why did you come visiting my pod? What brought you to try and climb down my stairs?”
“I didn’t come visiting,” Georgiana replied. “I was put here by whoever carried me on the stretcher that I woke up on.”
Basil looked a little confused. “But yesterday you fell down my stairs when you came visiting,” he said.
“I was coming back into the pod,” she replied. “I woke up here yesterday in one of the back rooms on a stretcher. I shouted out but no-one came to help me. I got up and made my way down your corridor using a chair and then went outside. Then the sirens started in the city and I tried to get back into the pod again and fell.”
Basil sat for a few moments to take in Georgiana’s short account.
“So you’re telling me that you’ve been asleep in one of my potting rooms for the last few days?” he finally said, a little stunned.
“I suppose so,” said Georgiana. “I really don’t know how long I’ve been asleep but I must have been here for quite a while, before the fire at least.”
Basil looked a little stunned.
“I’m very sorry,” he finally said. “If I’d known you were there then I’d have made you more comfortable and got you some food and drink.”
“You mean the bread, drink and biscuits that I found on the table weren’t there for me?” said Georgiana.
“No,” came the reply, “but I’m glad you found them,” he added.
The conversation carried on for a little while and, when enough had been said, Georgiana tried again to retrieve the information from Basil that she had not managed to get the previous day.
“What happened out there, in the city I mean?” she said.
Basil’s relaxed frame immediately changed and the tone of his voice tightened.
“I’m sure you saw enough when you briefly went outside,” he said. “Not much more to say really.”
But that wasn’t good enough for Georgiana. This gentleman, nice as he was, needed to be pursued till she had the answers she was seeking.
“I need to know,” she said, rather abruptly.
“No you don’t,” he replied.
“Why not,” she said.
“Because you don’t,” came the reply.
A little quiet passed between them and Basil got up from his seat. Georgiana knew that if he began to potter about she’d quickly lose the flow of the conversation so she spoke up as Basil walked down to the other side of the room.
“Basil, I can’t hide from what’s happened out there and I need to find my father. I will be leaving this pod as soon as I’m able and the more I know now the better it will be for me to do what I need to do.”
Her words didn’t sound very refined, polished or mature, but that wasn’t the point. Her request for information was out in the open again and an awkward few moments followed.
Basil tried to pretend she hadn’t spoken and made several attempts to start other lines of chatty talk. Each time, however, she asked the same question again.
“Basil,” she finally said in an almost cross tone. “I need to know where my father is and I will not shut up till I have the answers I need!”
“I’d heard you were a feisty one,” he said, almost to himself.
“But what has happened?” she pressed.
“Who knows,” came his quick reply.
“Do you know?” she persisted.
“Why would I know?” he said, irritated by her persistence.
“Well, do you?”
“Basil, do you know what has happened to my father? Do you know what has happened to the city?” she almost yelled.
“They’re all dead!” he shouted back, dropping his guard for a moment. The ferocity of his reply surprised even him, and he showed immediate embarrassment at his outburst.
“Dead, the lot of them,” he then said, very quietly. He looked across at Georgiana. His brief stare met hers and she could see the pain in his eyes. Then he looked away as if he could not bear anyone looking into his soul.
“Saw them all burn I did,” he said, with his back turned to her, “every single one,” he added and then his gaze dropped to his feet. “Never heard a sound like it before,” he said. “The sound of thousands of voices all crying out together and a raging fire that was so hot it drove me out of my spy hole and back into this room. But even from here I could still hear them; crying out together and no one to save them.”
Georgiana realised that he hadn’t been trying to protect her from the information that had just spilled out of him. Her questions had forced out a memory that he himself was desperately trying to forget.
“I’m sorry,” she said in a quiet tone, tears running down her face. “Must have been a terrible thing to see and hear,” she added.
He nodded. “It was,” his eventual whispered reply drifted out of his quivering lips on the breath of heartbreak.
Georgiana sat on the sofa and her tears began to turn into a stream.
“I’m sure there was nothing you could have done,” she said, wiping her eyes and trying to talk in a tone that would make him turn around so that she could gain his gaze again.
Basil didn’t reply.
“So they’re all dead?” she finally said, wiping her eyes. “Even my father?”
Basil said nothing again.
“Did any get away?” she enquired.
Basil walked over to her and sat on the opposite edge of the settee, just near where he had been sitting when they had enjoyed their meal together, but a little further away and put his hand onto the arm rest as if to search for some comfort. His stare was set squarely on the wall opposite. Perhaps he wanted a little relief and emotional ease himself but didn’t’ know how to get it. “Some may have,” he said, “but I didn’t see any.”
She shuffled over to him, put her hand under his elbow, and rested her head on his shoulder. The two of them sat together in silence and wept.
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Back in her little room Lady Georgiana wrote some more about how she and Basil were a comfort to each other over those next few days and weeks.
“Understanding that you have lost everyone makes anyone left your closest relative,” she penned. “Basil soon became a good friend of mine. One who would continue to be so through thick and thin for many years to come. He would share with me some of my most difficult times in the future. Today I miss him so much and, despite his many bumblings,” she added, “I would so love to have him here with me right now, rather than this continual solitude and silence.”
She stopped writing again and checked her watch. Footsteps were heard on the stair outside and the door to her room opened.
“Here you are M’lady,” said a servant’s voice.
A small tray of tea and cakes were placed on the small coffee table that sat between the two arm chairs.
“Just thought you might need some sustenance to keep your strength up,” she said.
“Thank you,” said Lady Georgiana, with an attempted smile. With that the door opened and closed again and the house maid was gone. Lady Georgiana settled herself into one of the armchairs and lifted a drink of tea to her lips. It was refreshing. She was glad of the thirst-quenching beverage.
“Beer, beards and broth,” she said to herself, in memory of her friend, and sipped her drink.
Lady Georgiana wiped her mouth with the napkin provided and went to sit back at her writing desk. It wasn’t long before the events of the past were flowing again and unfolding on her page.
“I must,” she wrote, “now jump back to a few months earlier to tell the full tale of how our city fell. Sometimes hardship is not our enemy. It’s easy to be on the lookout when things are going wrong; easy to keep a keen watch when you’re struggling, to look for the best solutions and the traps when so much is at stake. Sometimes the real enemy is disguised as a comrade called ‘achievement’ or ‘winner’, someone who is meant to be your companion and friend. It’s hard to recognise, especially when it comes in the guise of success. Success is like a drug that provides a stupor, an incurable numbness to danger. Success and accomplishment are imagined as a high wall that cannot be scaled, a fortified castle that you believe impenetrable or a great damn that cannot be breached. Success, I have found, is a liar, and will say anything to keep itself from falling off its pedestal. So let me begin at a time when our city was indeed a great success, a place that had attained fame and fortune. It was a sensation and triumph both materially and socially. It was a time when we lacked for nothing and I personally had never felt so secure, so loved and so much at home.” Lady Georgiana paused. “Home,” she wrote again with a pause. The word had been written on the page so quickly, so easily. “It’s a funny word,” she penned. It’s a place that you think will never change, will remain forever, and is always available to you. Then, once you lose it, you spend the rest of your life looking for it again.” Lady Georgiana dipped her quill into her ink well. “So here we go,” she wrote. “I’ll start my account with a meal and show how home turned into heartbreak, success into suffering, perfection into perdition and affability into an anguish that is still with me today.”
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The room’s atmosphere was a delight. A candle lit table decorated with evergreen shrubbery, elegantly strung across and in-between dishes of steaming soups, broths and beverages. Around the table, a family party that showed a household at ease with itself. The food was excellent and the conversation flowed with cordiality and affection. At the head of the table, Lord Stephen Pluggat, to his right Lady Melanie Lynnette, opposite her Georgiana, next to her, Emma (her pregnant sister-in-law) and next to her, Richard - Emma’s husband and Georgiana’s older brother. Opposite Richard a blank space at the table where a place was set but not taken up. Then down the table a variety of guests who knew the honour of being invited to the house where they dined and who relished the food and good friendships that they had so suddenly found.
“Your good health,” said Lord Stephen, which was met many courteous replies or with nods of appreciation.
The conversation continued around the room with well-mannered laughter breaking in from time to time to punctuate the lively chit-chat. Everyone seemed engrossed until the doorbell rang and one of the employees of the house servants went to answer. Georgiana’s face slightly scowled for a brief moment when she heard a voice in the doorway greet the door attendant and engage in a lively dialogue as he walked down the corridor. Then in came a young man who walked round the room’s circumference, as if a member of the family, and sat down in the empty seat opposite Richard.
“You’re late again,” said Lady Melanie. “I do hope your mother is recovered?”
“Almost,” replied the young man, as if not quite interested in the question. He settled down in his place, dropped the napkin over his lap, and lifted the lid on his dish to be met by the aroma of the soup.
“Almost?” she enquired. “I do hope she is getting proper care?”
The young man nodded and sipped his soup.
“I would have thought proper care would require constant attention from those you love,” added Georgiana, in a tone colder than her mothers.
The young man looked up at her and gave a brief smile before breaking the small loaf of bread in half and dipping it into his soup bowl.
“We all need our space and a bit of a break from caring for others…” Lord Stephen added, trying to lessen the tone of Georgiana’s last comment, “…and even mothers can be tiring at times. Not meaning any offense my dear,” he added, turning to Lady Melanie.
“None taken,” she replied.
A gentleman down the table joined in the conversation.
“So young Erepsin,” he said, “what is the forecast for your mother’s recovery. Will we be seeing her back in the city social scene before long?”
“Not sure,” came the young man’s quick reply between sips and chewing his bread.
“The doctor’s last words were a bit unclear on the matter; to be honest I don’t think he knows himself.”
“Shouldn’t you have pressed him a little more to find out?” enquired Georgiana, who got a cough and glance from her father that was more than a polite correction.
“Leave him alone,” said Richard. “Can’t you see the poor man is in need of sustenance himself?”
The young man took another sip of his soup and smiled at his friend opposite.
“Thank you Mr R,” he said to Richard.
“Your welcome Mr E,” replied Richard.
Erepsin glanced over to Georgiana, gave her a quick wink, and carried on with his meal as if it were a serious task at hand. Georgiana felt her insides churn at his attention and she quickly moved her gaze away to escape the inappropriate eye signal. The different courses were served like clockwork that evening and Georgiana’s father was, as usual, the life and soul of the gathering. He was a man of wide reading and very up-to-date on matters that concerned the city – though not so much taken up with his knowledge that he didn’t have time to listen to the viewpoints and information that came from the people around him. Georgiana found her mind wandering after a time. This social scene she had participated in before and she knew exactly what her father was doing; feeding up different people from all kinds of backgrounds in the city with a most generous meal and at the same time feeding them with his vision for unity and constraint on difficult political matters. He somehow managed to do it in a way that no-one felt put-upon and at the end of the meal all believed themselves edified and educated and all-the-better for it. To him it was his duty to put together their ideological future in a lively, jovial setting and by so doing ensured that, to a certain measure, people were asking the right questions, seeking the right answers, and hopefully being kept safe by doing so.
“Nothing is worse than ignorance,” he once told Georgiana. “But someone who has only a little knowledge on a subject can also be equally dangerous. God save us from the actions and activities of the semi-educated, the ignorant and the arrogant,” he would add.
It wasn’t long, however, before Erepsin (having had his fill of good food) was gently undermining her father’s statements by passing jokes between himself and Georgiana’s brother Richard. Richard joined in the light chatter, often unaware of the implications of what his friend was saying, and laughing wholeheartedly at the witticisms of his once school-mate chum. Lord Stephen, however, wasn’t thrown by any of it. He had a great skill that Georgiana admired of knowing where the conversation was going, how it was being steered by Erepsin in the wrong direction, and how to bring it back into focus with very little effort. Often it was with a quick question to someone else in the room, perhaps someone who didn’t know much on the subject, and he would help them with their answers by engaging with them in the conversation, passing quick thoughts to them that they could say “Yes” or “No” to and then agreeing or disagreeing – even supposedly wrestling with his own thoughts out loud (as if working them out in his own mind) and then coming to conclusions that they could all agree with. In this way everyone felt a part of the meal and the general discourse, even when they had very little to say themselves. Georgiana thought at the time that her father was wasting the occasion and didn’t see the full implications of his efforts. Years later, once it had clicked what he was doing and how well it worked, it was something she adopted as a method of her own.
“So, to the matter in hand,” Lord Stephen said, as the mealtime conversation began to draw to a conclusion. “Can we not see that the common King’s people law that underpins our city is not the foundation of our very freedom? Constraint is not only a barrier that good itself should not cross, otherwise it ceases to be good, but it is also a wall of defence against an outside enemy. Constraint allows freedom to live within the confines of those walls in safety where values are not compromised and the wolf, who prowls around outdoors, does not get in. Without limitations we are not truly free. Freedom always comes at a price, but when you think about it, it’s not a price at all. The hefty fine of lawlessness and self-rule always brings with it a wage that culture has to finally pay and in the end we’re left penniless, all because we wanted to see what throwing off constraint could achieve.”
Nods appeared around the room as the words went in. “This is why King’s people law is and still should be the foundation of our living. Any city that shakes off the wisdom of the past to experiment with the new, that which sounds so broad and enticing, will find itself entangled and ensnared. There is no reward for journeying to a far off land whilst neglecting the home. Anyone who lets their eyes roam to the ends of the earth to find fulfilment forgets that prosperity does not exist on the horizon, but in the tasks at hand in front of them. The chores of everyday goodness demand a living that is careful, where the barriers of constraint allow normality to be great and constancy in living to be glorious, not only for the current generation but also for the generations to come.”
“Greatness is seduced by the laws of the timid,” Erepsin coldly chipped in.
“And wisdom is proved right by her children,” said Lord Stephen, in an abrupt manner that he had not used with Erepsin all evening. “The generations that have already gone by have proved to us beyond doubt what is good and right and true. History is on the side of the peacemaker and the constrained. Prosperity and liberty stays with those who do not stray into the land of the self-egoed and the highly notioned, who want to pursue a dream of humanity without limits where no-one is able to pull back the behaviour and ideas of the culture to a safe standard, because there is no standard anymore – just an open space to nothingness that provides no guidance or rule to which society can be pinned and therefore kept safe. It is our limitations that make us great and keep us secure.”
Erepsin shrugged his shoulders, knowing that to say any more would be disrespectful to his host, but at the same time he made sure that his demeanour displayed his objection.
The meal finished and after an hour or so of social discourse the guests knew it was time for them to go. When the house was finally cleared, and all that had been invited were on their way home, the family relaxed in the lounge. Erepsin was still with them, as usual, and talked to Richard and Emma about his latest wheeling and dealing that could possibly make him a fortune if his schemes came off. Georgiana sat by herself, with a book, not at all interested in Erepsin’s ‘blabbering’ as she would refer to it after he was gone. Tonight, however, seemed a little more tiresome than usual; Erepsin didn’t leave at his normal time and seemed to waffle instead - his extended conversation seemed to be an excuse for a lingering, perhaps loitering, for some kind of purpose of his own. Lord Stephen and Lady Melanie saw it too, but kept the matter just between their shared eye glances and made very polite dialogue between themselves and Georgiana - when they felt she was getting too engrossed in her reading.
“Well I think I’ll be off,” exclaimed Erepsin.
“Thank heavens for that,” said Georgiana under her breath. “Safe journey home,” were the matter of fact words she spoke out of the side of her mouth, not even glancing up from her book.
“As always, Mr R, your sister is the height of concern for my welfare,” Erepsin said to Richard.
“As usual,” replied Richard. “But then sis looks out for everyone,” he added.
Erepsin was just in the motion of turning round to leave when something popped into his mind, or that was the way he wanted it to look.
“Err, Lord Stephen,” he enquired. “May I have a moment or two of your time before I leave? There is something that I would like your advice and guidance about. It won’t take long.”
Georgiana immediately felt an unease flow through her veins, her frozen exterior being the only guide to what to she felt inside, but she didn’t move her face from behind her book.
“Yes of course,” replied Lord Stephen, turning his chair to face the young man.
Erepsin hesitated, “The subject,” he continued, “is of a rather delicate nature. I was rather hoping to talk in a more private setting.”
“We can chat in the library if you like,” Lord Stephen responded.
Erepsin nodded. “That would be good,” he said.
“Shall I come with you?” Georgiana enquired.
“We’re fine,” Erepsin interrupted.
“I’ll be back soon,” Lord Stephen smiled, aiming his attentions at Georgiana as he and Erepsin went off to the library for a short chat.
After Erepsin had gone, and the family had talked for just short of an hour, all went to bed except Lord Stephen - who spent a little time in his study as he liked to do. Georgiana took the liberty of waiting for him there when everyone else thought she had retired for the night.
“So what did he want?” was her first question.
“I thought you were in bed,” replied her father.
“You shouldn’t give him your time like that you know,” said Georgiana. “He’ll just take advantage of you in the end; misrepresent you in some way to others in the city and say that you’ve said something that you actually haven’t. He twists everything that people say to him for his own gain. You shouldn’t trust him as you do.”
Lord Stephen sighed, “You can’t just block people out,” he replied. “Erepsin’s a person too, no matter how much you dislike him, and everyone should have our attentions, no matter how undeserving they are.”
“He’s unstable and irresponsible!” Georgiana almost snapped. “We shouldn’t even let him in the house.”
Lord Stephen sat down in his armchair and picked up a book from a coffee table next to it.
“My dear daughter,” he began. “You and I know and understand that Erepsin is not a man to be trusted. He is brash, rash, wild in his imaginations, impatient, at times impertinent and has a natural talent at getting on everyone’s nerves - altogether he’s a badly assembled personality. But if we push him away he’ll just become worse still. Whilst he’s around us there’s still some chance that he’ll pick up at least a measure of sound advice and perhaps, just perhaps, that might steer him away from too great an error in the future.”
“He’ll use us for his own ends,” replied Georgiana, “I know he will.”
“If he tries then so be it,” said her father. “I won’t, however, be giving him reason to resent us.”
“You’re afraid of him?” enquired Georgiana.
“No,” said Lord Stephen, in a tone that showed he was a little tired of his daughter’s misunderstanding of his meaning. “I’m concerned at what might happen if he’s left to himself. Even though everyone talks about our current prosperity, I say that the city is not in a good place right now. Politically it’s weak, its vision is blurred and the fabric of society unstable. Erepsin isn’t a game changer. He’s not a person to hold high office but he is the kind of person to throw a spanner in the works if he’s left unguided and unwatched over. I don’t want to turn around in the years to come to find an unnecessary mess that needs cleaning up.”
Georgiana still wasn’t convinced by all that her father said but she was a little more comforted after hearing his words. To her, however, Erepsin was a time bomb, a tick, tick, ticking clock of destruction - as unstable as a drifting mine, all at sea and not knowing what he will collide with next. He was without conscience, short fused and driven to devour anything that fed his ego in order to fill some kind of gaping hole in his self-serving soul – “he’d devour the world if he could”, she thought, “and still be unsatisfied.” She instinctively knew that somewhere along the line he’d ruin himself and anyone within close proximity – which is why she didn’t want to be around when it was time for him to self-detonate.
Once the subject of Erepsin was momentarily dealt with Georgiana and Lord Stephen talked for a good ten minutes more. Without getting into too much of a discussion, they chatted about the immediate concerns that her father had about the city and the potential political ways forward to solve them.
“I still can’t see why you waste so much of your time inviting unimportant people to eat with us,” came one of her final statements. “Who was there tonight who could do any good for anyone?”
“Don’t look down on the naively upright,” came her father’s reply. “Most people are not born politically savvy, so sometimes we have to spend time teaching them what the conversation is that they need to be engaging in in order to keep themselves free. The dark arts often found in the political arena, and the seductive talk that flows from it, can weave a deadly and destructive web into any culture. It can happen so quickly and, before people are aware of what’s really happening, they find themselves trapped in a closed system that’s full of control. It often happens to the simple man who is left clueless as to what is really happening behind the carefully chosen rhetoric until it’s too late. But once an honest person gets a whiff of what’s up, you never know how strong they can be to overthrow those who call themselves the political elite.”
“That’s not much good if those in power have the law behind them,” replied Georgiana.
“An oppressed people are only as weak as they corporately allow themselves to be,” replied her father. “And a government over a nation is only as strong as the people allow.”
“That’s not what I see dad,” said Georgiana. “I see people intimidated and thrown into confusion. I see people sold false hopes and dreams that they can never have and right now I can’t see any end to the wrangling and infighting until something very strong takes the side of the weak. The weak are always what they are, weak.”
Lord Stephen leaned forward in his chair and eyeballed his daughter.
“Any culture that is in conflict and crisis comes to a point when they have to ask themselves questions about their own future and freedom; whether they are willing to play a part in making that future possible for themselves and for the generations to come. I remember reading about a revolution years ago. A more gullible people you could not have found and how stupidly they had all been taken in. Promises, as you say, of feigned freedom and opportunity that lead to a dead end. The people put up with it until they found their backs to the wall and imminent slavery was upon them. Then these trusting, unwise and foolish people decided to assemble themselves to take on the elite. When the heat was turned up and people were wavering they asked themselves two questions, ‘If not us then who? If not now then when?’ Those are the two most poignant questions a generation can ask itself. It points to a time of crisis when a culture’s thinking becomes so fine tuned to freedom that the average trusting innocent will overturn the deceptive shrewd. It is the place where the average nobody in the culture becomes part of a corporate giant, someone who can make anything happen. That’s why I do what I do. The weak made strong are stronger than those who strut with power. The love of life is stronger than the love of oppression. Those who chase freedom pursue it in a way that makes those who pursue power look half hearted. A person will lay down their life to be free, but a person who loves influence will slink off when the heat is turned up in order to live another day.”
Georgiana pondered this for a while but still was not fully persuaded. Finally she had had enough and went to bed; still a little uneasy at the evening’s events but more settled now that she knew more of her father’s mind over Erepsin and the direction he was trying to take in the life of the city. She still felt, however, that they were missing something, but couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Having tucked herself up in bed she wrote briefly in her diary and then dropped off to sleep.
The Fall of Clear Wash City
A note for anyone thinking of purchasing my book…
If you feel you need to get a more indepth overview of each book before purchasing then look at the Synopsis and Core Conflict books below. Be aware, however, that you will gain an insight into the book’s storyline which may reduce the pleasure of the final read.
A prequel to the Waterworks of Clear Wash City story. Lady Georgiana Pluggat-Lynette writes out the account of a time in her teenage years when Clear Wash City fell into civil war. After several personal disasters she has to make a decision whether to help an unstable Erepsin Ville in order to regain power from the new rulers or whether to seek help from less capable friends.
She finds out that a handful of loyal but feeble people are worth more than a thousand able ones that she can't control.
The Book’s Core Conflict
A father who wants to give his life for his people and a daughter who won't let him go.
The city has fallen into the hands of a ruthless group of people and Georgiana Pluggat-Lynette, after suffering great personal loss, has to decide whether or not she will listen to her father's advice and let him be condemned for the sake of the city or seek her father's release by independently helping Erepsin Ville get the rule of the city back.
The book starts off just before where the last book finished. We understand that a warring coalition of nations are moving from the east and have already swallowed up a number of nations and cities on the other side of the desert. They are closing in and will soon be within reach of Clear Wash iteslf. The king is to go off to war. Not only to protect Clear Wash City but also some of the other cities that he rules over. Before he does so, he spends some time with Scrub. We discover that Scrub was a normal child until he was in his teenage years. Then, due to an incident, he was temporarliy starved of oxygen and, once coming round, he was mentally scarred and brain damaged.
Through the laying on of his hands the king brings him to a place of healing and steadily Scrub regains his thinking patterns. As it dawns on him that he has lost so many years of his life, he changes his name from Scrub to Stephanus again, the name his mother gave him. He has to then come to terms with all that has happened and goes off by himself for a while. Later he is called on by Lady Pluggat to join her in a new struggle.
After the king has gone off to war, the reports that get back are not good. Clear Wash City finds itself in political trouble as well as in short supply. Their main trading nations have already been conquered. A trading party from a nearby nation, that is notorious for slave trade, comes into the region. Amongst its ranks is Erepsin’s banished sister Selucia Ville. They bring much needed supplies and want to make a trade deal that will not only deliver essential supplies but also ensure the military safety of their cities. Lady Pluggat has many questions about their motives but the people of Clear Wash City also have a great number of needs and a potential war to fight if the king should fail.
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“Stephanus, Stephanus,” called a voice.
The rich, deep sound floated out across the air and into the ears of the young man. “Stephanus, Stephanus,” it called again. Scrub felt the words enter his mind; their weighty tone soothed his rushing thoughts, as if the words themselves were alive. Like a spray of fine particles of liquid love, they saturated his thinking and then flowed together down into his soul. Deeply refreshing, and yet despite this, his mind was still left hazy and muddled. Back and forth went his thoughts, again and again as he tried to make sense of them.
“Stephanus,” called the voice to him once more. Scrub felt the hands that were placed either side of his head take a stronger hold. Thumbs pressed into his temple and the rest of the fingers pressed down onto his ears. “Stephanus,” came the call once more, and the words washed yet more perplexity and confusion away. “You must forgive,” the same voice came again. “Let it all go.”
Scrub’s mind was in a whirl. “Forgive who and what?” were his immediate thoughts.
Then he saw it. A bank of earth, covered in deep and lush green foliage that steeply sloped down to the water’s edge. The place was familiar. As he watched, feelings bubbled up from deep within him. Emotions that he’d thought were lost and buried came rushing to the surface; anger, malice, unfettered hatred, bitterness and acute pain. All of these drove into his passions and rippled through them in a way that he could not control. He saw himself, not a boy but not quite a young man – manhood just a short way ahead in the distance; a not-quite-yet adult but certainly no child, swimming through the water. Next to him was his aunty, Lady Georgiana Pluggat Lynette. They swam together, racing each other across the lake. Already he was the stronger swimmer, and she knew it. He teased her with letting her take half an arm’s length lead and then, with a sudden spirt of strength, he’d take it back again laughing at her protests. She wasn’t used to losing to him and this turn around in their relationship was new, and somewhat unwelcome to her ego. He loved it, however.
To their far right a clunking noise resonated across the water. The flood gates behind the great turbine engines that sat at the lake’s edge opened. Water gushed through them, causing the blades to rotate and chop at the water was they went. The city had used the water to create electricity for a long time. A little clunky and out-of-date now, they made a terrible din as they wound themselves up with the water’s sudden flow. Scrub and Lady Georgiana weren’t in any danger. The suction from the water that flowed to the turbines was too far away and it was something they’d often seen. Lady Georgiana had, however, over the years, laid down the law to Scrub that he could not swim close to the turbines, even when they were off. “If the doors behind them suddenly opened and the water flows through, you’ll be sucked in and sliced to pieces,” she once told him in his younger years when they first began to swim together. For some reason he’d always taken notice of this and not once had he given in to his desire to find out how things work by swimming towards them.
The twosome pounded their way through the water towards the shore. Finally they reached the water’s edge, Lady Georgiana first and Scrub just behind her. “You win again aunty,” said Scrub, matter-of-factly slumping down onto the floor and not seemingly too out of breath.
“No I didn’t,” came her reply, as she sat next to him, resigned to the fact that all swimming victories from now on were conceded to her rather than won.
The two of them began to dry themselves off and found that just glancing at each other made them laugh at the silliness of the situation.
“I thought you swam rather well today,” said Scrub.
She playfully poked him in his side.
“I was just saying,” he continued with a smirk. “Just saying that I thought you tried very hard today and that if you keep this up, you’ll end up a quite an ok swimmer, perhaps…”
“You’re digging a very big hole for yourself,” Lady Georgiana responded, a tone of caution in her voice that was playful and at the same time showed that her nephew was close to the edge of getting a thick ear. “I know I am,” Scrub said, “spades and digging are my speciality,” and with those words he threw his towel over his head to rub the wet out of his mossy white hair, knowing that his aunty had no option but to listen to his current jovial blurting.
As she listened to Scrub’s banter, saying how he had great hopes for her for the future if she continued to try hard, she understood that the teacher that she had been to Scrub for so many years was slowly coming to an end. The teacher was at times, in fact, becoming the student, and it was all happening so quickly. Scrub was growing up fast and this wasn’t the only area in life that he was excelling in. Lady Georgiana had given him so much of her time, a dedicated life even, to bringing up her sister’s son. Much of it she had endured at first, not being a natural mother to anyone, but these last few years she’d actually enjoyed, despite the difficulties that surrounded them both. Scrub had grown so well as a young lad and his personality had burst onto the stage of life these last months. It was a pleasure to know him and this young man-in-the-making was going to be not only a success at whatever he put his mind to, he was also going to be a good friend, something that Lady Georgiana had not expected or predicated. This living revelation was something she was still getting used to, but one that was most welcome. The change that was taking place before her very eyes, however, that is the handing over of the reins so that he was more in control of his life, she still currently found a little unsettling. When she called the shots, what they were to do that day and what it was they were going to learn etc. that was fine. Now that he was better than her at so many things and his insights were deeper and sharper than hers, that wasn’t so good, or should I say easy to swallow. You never know how a relationship will work out once it begins to change before it finally settles again. Scrub’s whit, which sometimes went quite close to the mark, was very clever and strong – but at least she knew there was always a smile behind it and the fact that he loved her, as if she were a mother to him, was enough to keep things in balance.
“So, you still haven’t told me Stephanus. Why your friends have suddenly decided to call you Scrub?” asked Lady Georgiana. “Not sure that I like this new nickname.”
Scrub lay back on the bank, covering himself with the towel to keep the cool breeze from chilling him.
“Oh it’s just a bit of fun,” he replied. “They’ve just taken the first letter from all of my names, “Stephanus, Cadmar, Roberto, Uriel, Bannerman, and put them together and you get Scrub, that’s all.”
“Well I’m not sure that I like it,” came Lady Georgiana’s reply. Her tone was a little corrective. Perhaps she’d found a subject that she still had some power over and had unwittingly found herself expressing an opinion on something that she could control in their relationship again.
“Relax aunty,” came Scrub’s reply. It’s only a bit of fun.
“You’re a Pluggat Lynette,” she said. “Stephanus is a wonderful name linked to your Grandfather Lord Stephen. You’ll be a lord one day yourself. I don’t want people calling you Lord Scrub!”
“It’s not funny,” she said.
Scrub looked at her and giggled and Lady Georgiana found she had to look away in order to maintain her serious composure on this matter, which didn’t last very long. “I’m just saying to be careful what you let people call you,” she eventually said, when her giggles had stopped. “Those friends of yours are getting a little too familiar.”
“Right you are aunt,” came his quick reply, meaning that he wasn’t putting too much weight onto her words. He got to his feet, picked up his shoes, bent over and kissed his aunt on to very top of her head and began walking up the bank. “Just going off to see some of my over familiar friends,” he called back over his shoulder. “Thanks for the swim aunty; I’ll catch up with you after rush hour.”
Lady Georgiana watched him disappear over the bank and then finished off drying herself down. She quickly pulled on and zipped up a full length body suit over her damp costume and then put her all weather coat and boots on top to prepare for her walk back into the city. Next to them was a bag that contained an assortment of odds and ends that she’d meant to drop off at one of the city’s flea markets that morning, but hadn’t had the time to do so. So she picked up the bag as the next job to be done on her list before going home and getting properly changed. After rummaging through the bag to make sure that everything in there was of no use to her and she was happy to give it away, she sat for a little while longer on the water’s edge just to take in the day. It was bright, as normal, but there was a refreshing breeze that had a cool nip attached to it that was unusual for the city at that time of the year. So she closed her eyes and rested in the moment.
“Help!” she heard a voice call. It carried across the water and Lady Georgiana sat up to see the splashing of arms and legs moving at high speed in all directions. Whoever it was out there, they were in difficulty and already in a panic. She got to her feet and quickly ran up to the top of the bank.
“Stephanus!” she cried out, whilst taking off her boots and top coat. “Stephanus, help!” Without seeing if he had heard her or not, she ran down the bank again, zipping off her body suit and plunging into the reservoir’s chilly water. Already tired from her swim, she fought against her floppy limbs and overpowered them with her determined will to catch up with the person in difficulty.
After swimming a good distance she could see the distressed person clearly, a very young woman. She was slowly drifting over towards the area where the turbines were and getting caught in the underwater drag that would lead to her death. Lady Georgiana reached the middle of the lake and slowed down, distraught by the sight of struggling person and at the same time not sure how far she could venture towards her.
“Help me,” came the young woman’s cry. “Help me,” she called again.
She swam on some more, spurred on by the woman’s call, even though she knew she was entering a danger zone.
“Aunty!” she heard from somewhere behind her.
“Stephanus, help,” she spoke over her shoulder as she continued to swim.
His arrival was welcome. She heard him splash into the water and knew it wouldn’t be long before he’d caught up with her. As she swam on she could feel the pull from the undercurrent take hold of her legs and getting stronger as it rushed her towards the turbines. She decided to turn her body round to face the opposite way and let the current pull her towards the woman whilst at the same time testing her strength in the water to swim against the current to ensure that she could still get back to safety. Very soon she was within three or four body lengths of the struggling individual. She quickly found, however, that she’d reached the point where she too began to struggle. It was taking nearly all of her strength to keep herself from being sucked in and, once that happened, she turned her face towards Scrub and cried out to him.
“Stephanus, help me!” she cried.
The Silence of Clear Wash City
A note for anyone thinking of purchasing my book…
If you feel you need to get a more indepth overview of each book before purchasing then look at the Synopsis and Core Conflict books below. Be aware, however, that you will gain an insight into the book’s storyline which may reduce the pleasure of the final read.
The king has gone off to war and, whilst he is away, decisions have to be made about how to survive. The king has laid down rules and regulations that must be kept at all costs but arguments break out against these stipulations by the new revolutionists due to what they call 'unforseen circumstances'. Desperation eventually opens the door for a cultural invasion that leads to a power base shift whist the king is away. The only way to save the city is by great personal sacrifice, if there is anyone willing to make it.
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