Welcome to Paragraphs Of Power Grand Final for August 2012. The voters have made their selections.
Firstly from Semi-Final number 1...#2 Thackery and #1 Sand...
The second semi final winners are #6 In The Beginning...#8 The Beating Of My Heart...#10 The Fare. Normally only two entries are selected from each semi-final; however we had a tie for second in the latest poll...thus 3 selections are up for vote from Semi-final number 2.
All told 5 exciting entries.
Voting is now open to the right of this post. I don't envy you making a choice folks, all the entries are of a very high standard..
GRAND FINAL ENTRIES ...
#1 ... Sand
Luderitz, Namibia, 1941
The sun rose over the dunes casting long shadows. A battered blue truck travelled along the temporary runway. At the far end, a Junkers 252 waited. Alongside five men, weapons strapped to their shoulders, dressed in khaki flying kit, smoked.
The truck stopped and two middle aged men wearing dark blue overalls jumped out. “Who’s the pilot?” said Arno Fischer.
A tall young man, in his early twenties, with blond hair adjusted his cap. “I am Hauptman Geller. You’re late. My plane, refuel it at once.”
“Hauptman,” said the short, dark-haired, round-faced overweight Arno. “I supply, I do not load.”
Geller scowled. “I’ve flown this machine for twenty hours. If you believe my men or I are going to load fuel. Think again.”
“Then you will stay here,” said the ruddy-faced Alphonso Schulz.
Eyes blazing, Geller slipped his MP 38 from his shoulder, cocked and pointed the firearm.
Arno shivered but covered his fear with a shrug. “Hauptman, two things may happen if you shoot us. We die and are no longer a problem. The fuel will burn and explode. If you want to stay in this God-forsaken place, go ahead. You can explain to the Fuehrer why his diamonds are not in Germany. But I do not load.”
Geller regarded the two men in silence before he lowered his weapon. “Is there anyone who can refill my plane?”
“Hauptman. These are strange times. The Fatherland is at war but in Luderitz live a few people and no threat exists. You and your men are safe. Rest, and when you’re ready prepare your plane. I’ll bring you food and water. My good friend Alphonso will stay with you.”
“It’s the devil’s choice and I need rest. One of my crew will keep guard with your man.”
“Before you sleep, Hauptman,” he pointed to the back of the truck, “these drums must be unloaded.”
By the time Arno clambered back into his empty truck, four of the crew were sleeping.
“Hauptman, I’ll come back at dusk with the food and water.” He glanced at his watch, not yet eleven.
The sun, split by the horizon, continued a westerly path as Arno returned with meat stew and two loaves of black bread. His gaze shifted towards the drums. “Hauptman, when are you going to load?’
‘Hauptman, is it easy flying at night?”
He smiled. “The new autopilot assists us on long straight flights. Depending on the wind, our time in the air to Tripoli will be twenty hours and more. I’ll be in the cockpit and when my co-pilot is rested, I’ll sleep. My engineers will work shifts to make sure the engines keep running. You see where the middle section where normally bombs are carried.”
“That’s a fuel tank for long-range patrols.”
“Your package.” Arno handed over the brown leather suitcase. “Inform your commandant. In three months, I’ll have more.”
Geller took the case and climbed into the cockpit. Two minutes later, he gave Arno a satchel. “Your money.”
Arno opened the bag.
“Count it, every Reich mark is there,” said Geller.
Arno closed the bag.
“Hauptman, your departure time?”
“When our tanks are full and the spare drums loaded. Men, time to get ready and go home.” Two stood and rolled the drums into position, while the other prepared a battery-driven-pump. Arno and Alphonso sat in the truck, smoked, talked, and waited.
A few hours later, one by one the three engines turned, fired, stuttered, and settled into a regular rhythmic roar.
Having checked for obstructions, Arno positioned his truck with the headlights on full beam at the end of the landing strip. The twenty-five metre long craft nudged over the sand.
With the brakes released, the engines at full power, the craft charged along the ground with a stream of dust trailing. The tail lifted, the fuselage shook, and they were airborne. Geller laughed as he flew low, enveloping Arno’s truck. On reaching a height of six thousand metres, he set course for Tripoli and switched on the auto device. He turned to his co-pilot, signalling for him to sleep. The engines droned and alone with a cloudless night sky, he relaxed.
Geller shook his co-pilot awake and to make sure, he placed a warm cup of coffee in his hands managing a grin as he did so. “Hans, weather’s getting up and I don’t trust this new fangled auto-system in a storm.”
Hans rubbed his eyes, sipped the hot liquid and focussed on the black clouds in the distance. “We’ve been through worse, Hauptman.”
With a power direct from Hades the storm struck and visibility reduced to zero. The plane dropped, rose, and levelled out five hundred metres lower. Geller corrected their heading. An up-draught grabbed, and lifted them as an express train through the clouds. His body dug into the seat.
“Hauptman, a big one.”
Wild, uncontrolled air currents buffeted the craft. Visibility remained grim.
“Sand storm,” said Geller.
“Hauptman, I didn’t think sand storms came this high.”
“Check our height. Perhaps we can climb.”
“Four thousand metres and dropping.”
“It can’t be.” Geller heaved on the controls. “Help me.”
A wall of dust shrouded them.
“Hauptman, port engine’s losing power.”
Geller levelled the craft. The fuselage shuddered as if struck by a nameless force.
“Three thousand meters and dropping."
Geller’s eyes strayed to the altimeter. “Impossible.” He struggled with the controls as the altimeter turned in the wrong direction.
“Port engine’s stopped.”
The remaining engines strained as they banked left then right. “Hans, we’re two hours from Tripoli. Send a message. Thank God we climbed over the mountains.” He pointed. “I’m going to land over there.”
The wheels touched, ploughed deep into the soft sand, and ripped from the wings. On its belly, they struck rocks, and split apart. Wings, full of fuel, somersaulted through the air before ending in a tangled metal web. Shock waves pulsed through their bodies. Propellers bent, ground into the desert floor. Then nothing.
There they are he whispered. He could hear them on the stairs. Their boots echoing loudly on the timber treads. He could hear the timbers creaking. They were shouting excitedly to each other, knowing that their quarry was near, knowing that soon they would have him. Their search would soon be over.
He could hear doors slamming as rooms on the lower floors were searched. Somebody was screaming as they were being dragged down the stairs. Douglas, he thought, the man who had sheltered him. He will certainly talk. Thackery knew that. Under torture who could blame him? Maybe it would save his life. He would tell them everything. Then they would come for him. They would be here quite soon now.
He dipped the pen into the ink and started to write once more. His hands were shaking, and the sweat ran down his forehead into his eyes. “I can hear them coming for me,” he wrote in the document. “They are coming up the staircase.” He could hear the frightened screams of the children in the house, as they were hastily pushed out of the way. Women were crying, people were shouting. Men were protesting, in vain. He could hear the dogs barking loudly in the yard.
Suddenly he heard somebody call out. “Here.”
“In there,” said another.
Then there was a loud crash against the door.
“We have him now,” called a third voice.
“He cannot get away. Not this time,” from a fourth. Another heavy blow struck the door. “Open up,” one shouted.
They were trying to break the door down. “They are outside now,” he wrote. “Banging on the door, they are coming for me.”
Thackery stood up and walked to the door. He checked the lock. It was secured. He pushed the iron bolt firmly into the keep at the door of the door. He then did the same to the one at the bottom. Satisfied, he then walked over to the cabinet at the side of the room. His arm hurt badly but he started to push the cabinet towards the door, to form a barricade. He knew that it would not stop them, but it would delay them just long enough for his purpose. He pushed the cabinet in front of the door. There was a third crash. The door shuddered, but held firm.
He hurried back to the table and took up his pen once more. He glanced at what he had written, then continued writing. “It will not be much longer.” He looked over at the door, and then turned to look at the window. He shook his head sadly. He looked back at his journal and continued. “There is no way out,” he wrote. “There is no escape.”
There was a fourth crash. The door shuddered once again. There was a loud crack as one of the hinges broke away from the doorframe. Still the door held. Time was running out. He looked down at the parchment. He took a deep breath, and wrote a final entry. “May God have mercy on me.”
He lay the pen down, and reached across the table, for his revolver. As he did so he brushed against the silver fob watch that lay upon the table. He reached for it, and opened the case. He looked at the lithograph that lay inside. As he did so he noticed his hand shaking. He gazed at the image wistfully. He slowly, gently ran his fingers across the picture. The image was that of his mother, twenty-five years or more ago. She had been beautiful then, Jake thought. He looked up and stared at the far wall. He tried to visualise how she had looked on that last day that he had seen her. She and his father were standing by the gate as he had ridden away. She was crying, he remembered sadly. How long was it? Four years, just four short years.
He was startled by another heavy blow hitting the door. Then there was a sudden noise as one of the door panels split. He looked towards the door for a split second, and then turned away. He took a deep breath, and slowly closed the case and placed the watch back onto the table. Time was running out. He carefully picked up the revolver. Taking into his hand he checked that it was loaded. He then carefully cocked the hammer. Next he placed the barrel at his right temple. He could feel the cold steel against his skin. It was cooling, soothing somehow. His hand stopped shaking. There was another crash against the door. The cabinet shuddered and moved a short distance. Then another crash and then a third. The doorframe started to splinter. The bolt keep snapped, and fell away. They would be inside in a very short time now. He felt the cold trigger against his finger. He looked towards the door. He hesitated for a moment or two longer. His breathing became shallow. He felt very hot. Sweat ran down his face. He started to cry. He closed his eyes tightly. “Mother,” he called out loudly. “Mother, please forgive me.” Suddenly there was another heavy thud against the door. The frame shattered and the door burst open, hanging down as the top hinge split. The cabinet slid across the floor. The door hung precariously for a few seconds, and then fell loudly to the floor, tearing off the lower hinge. Jake opened his eyes wide, and turned his face towards the doorway. Standing at the opening was his friend Myles. Just like their childhood games of hide and seek, Myles had found him once again, as usual. Jake quickly looked away. Then slowly, gently, he started to squeeze the trigger.
#6... In The Beginning...
The first thing I remember is the heat.
The searing, blinding obliterating heat.
It ate through me, consumed me until it became me and all that existed was the fire.
The second thing I remember is spinning.
Air rushed around me, choking the flames until I was a husk of burnt out nothing.
Down and up whipped past, creating a void of weightless awareness.
The last thing I remember is dying.
Pressed against the palm of God I was flattened.
Something broke as I screamed, and for the first time, I heard my voice.
It rushes up and slaps me into consciousness. The light penetrating my eyelids forces its way into my dreaming mind, screaming for me to pay attention. Morning doesn’t like to wait. It screams, bouncing on the bed of your sanity, demanding you open your eyes and acknowledge its existence.
That’s how I came to know my very first morning.
Awake, I find moving easy, like liquid my body flows in any direction I imagine. If I think left, my head turns to look. If curious about something, my hand reaches out to touch.
That’s how I came to know my very first lizard.(I don't like this repetition 'that's how I came' – if it was in 'threes', it might seem better)
Hard earth gives no comfort beneath my newly formed bones, so I sit and look around, enjoying the beauty morning had brought. The ground is red and sand shifts above the packed clay. Curious, I touch it. I bring the red dust lingering on my fingers close and taste. Earth.
Life skitters across the ground, bugs and mammals darting from point to point and in the distance I sense something large—something predatory. I smile. Earth and Life and Danger. I am surrounded.
On my hand something crawls: something black with a spiny shell. I lift my arm to look closer and the creature rears back, sinking its venom filled teeth into my virgin flesh. The sting is bright and startling. I crush the insect with my other hand, killing it in it’s attempt to survive.
Death is a waste. The creature attacked only to find its own fate. The Earth will reclaim it; pull its carcass back into her bosom and breathe new life into existence. Perhaps this time it will come back and I will meet it in the road. Will Death remember its bringer? Will we know each other? My first moments combined with its final ones. Perhaps we are bound in beginnings and endings. Perhaps we’ve met before.
I pull my form up to standing, testing the weight I carry. It’s heavy, this attraction to the earth. This gravity. Standing in the open, I am larger than the crouched animals darting around the peripheries of my sight. I am larger than I expected. Had I been smaller before?
My outer layer is smooth as I run my hands over the curves of this flesh. The red stain of earthen clay lingers on my fingers, streaking across the cool paleness. Lines of dust remain behind, branding me, claiming me as a part of this Earth. A part of its people.
I feel a longing. A longing I didn’t know words for. A memory of a love reflected by my internal quiet. I sigh again, to hear my voice, to know its real. I have hope, hope for something outside my reach, something I’d once known, something I loved.
No tangible object presents itself when I focus on this hope. Only a drifting sensation, like a feather falling to the earth and a soft whispered memory. So I search. I walk and follow the movement of my legs with another step. I walk into the morning seeking something true.
I should have known better.
#8...The Beating of My Heart
Not sure if it signifies the beginning or the end. But I’m glad to see it. It’s been too many years. The grain is worn, the paint beginning to peel. I draw a reluctant comparison to my own life. I reach for the round handle and turn.
I don’t know if my father will be home. I don’t know if he’ll smile or scowl when he sees me.
There’s nothing but silence as I take my first step over the threshold to my new life, or back to my old life, whichever way you look at it.
I’m not sure where it all went wrong. Not sure if I want to keep analysing or rehashing the details.
All I know—it did go wrong.
I twist a long strand of my hair around my finger and I take one more step closing the door behind me. Now I’m really here. I look around the room. Nothing has changed. Nothing at all. Not one detail differs from my memory of this place.
The same muted coloured cushions randomly spread and squashed into the corners of that old beaten couch. The walls painted in the same grey, the same gaudy framed pictures, motel room replicas—saying nothing, meaning nothing.
The table I spent my life eating at. The orange vinyl chairs pulled out.
The kitchen I cooked in. Dishes, abandoned in the sink. The ancient coffee machine on the bench, the grinds of coffee beans scattered underneath. Dregs in a mug, leaving the aroma of coffee in the air, the only sign of recent life.
I sink heavily onto the couch and squash another cushion. I close my eyes.
I think about Chris. I wonder where he is. I wonder what he’ll say. I wonder if he’ll say anything at all…
It’s been too long. I’ve told myself that repeatedly since it all went to crap and I landed back here.
To this place.
The place of my youth.
Of my beginning.
A beginning we should have had together, but stubbornness built the wall.
What if? The biggest question in my life.
What if I hadn’t walked out?
What if I’d said yes?
My eyes flutter open. I sit up groggy from unexpected sleep. My vision blurred. I have no idea what time it is or how long I’ve been sleeping. Then I hear another breath. And it’s not mine.
I blink, and turn my head.
He’s sitting opposite on the only other seat in the tiny lounge. His chair. There’s no smile. But there’s no scowl either.
‘You’re back,’ he says.
It’s been two long years, since I’ve seen him. He hasn’t changed. Stuck in time, just like this house. I expected a bit of grey, a few more wrinkles, perhaps some weight round the middle. But he still has those alert eyes, cropped black hair, tanned skin, the large physique of a man ten years younger than he should. All that hard labour keeping him fit.
‘How long?’ he says bluntly. No reactions. Just questions.
He keeps looking at me. Taking inventory. I guess that never changes with parents. From the time you exit the womb, they are constantly checking you still have all your limbs, you don’t look too tired or hungry or sick. That’s what my father’s doing now, even though there’s little, to no expression.
‘You look good,’ I say.
He nods his head slightly. But doesn’t reciprocate. His inventory has obviously taken in my loss of weight, my tired eyes, my pale skin.
‘Want something to eat?’ He gets up and moves to the kitchen.
I don’t want to eat. But I know it would make him feel like a parent again. I wonder for a minute if he’s missed that feeling.
‘Sure,’ I say.
I close my eyes once more, and hear the familiar sounds of the cupboards opening and closing. The fridge buzzing, the pans connecting with the stove. The switch of the gas being lit. The chopping, the sizzling, the smell of onions, bacon, spices. He’s remembered. He’s being a parent again. My favourite as a kid was always pasta with a bacon cream sauce. The familiar smell awakens my stomach. It rumbles. That surprises me, it hasn’t rumbled like that since I left.
Plates clatter on the bench, the pans scraped, and a plate full of my childhood favourite appears before my eyes. I take it and smell the memory. The first mouthful is warm and delicious. The second, followed by the third and the fourth, each in turn warming me from the inside out. I haven’t felt this warm in a long time.
‘Good,’ I say.
My father watches me as I suck the last string of pasta up through my lips and scrape the last of the sauce.
His mind is ticking again. I wait. I know the question’s coming. He puts his plate down on the table next to his chair. He folds his arms. I try and scrape more sauce. To make noise. Any noise, to distract him from asking that question.
It makes no difference, he asks anyway.
‘Are you back, for him?’
I can’t answer. Because I don’t know the answer. I bite my lip. ‘I don’t know.’
My father shakes his head. He gets up and takes my plate from my lap and puts it on top of his. He lingers, then strokes my cheek. I lean into his touch. I need this. I need this familiar. I reach up and clasp his hand in mine and hold it to my cheek. So warm, just like the food in my stomach.
My father lets go, sighs, and moves to the kitchen.
The running water, the slosh of dishes in the sink. The everyday, the familiar. I’m back. I know now, it’s the right place for me to be. The place I need to get my heart beating again.
The call came for Charlie Stead at the end of a slow day. He drove along the pot-holed road. Checking the address, he stopped outside a large dilapidated Victorian property. The gate hung on one hinge. Nature had reclaimed the large garden. Cheered by the thought of a fare he walked up the path, ascended the six worn stone steps and pressed the bell. No noise came from within and he tried again, nothing.
Annoyed that this might be another wind-up his fist pounded on the door. Faint footsteps sounded on a tiled floor before one half of the double door opened. She was frail, her face uneasy, grey-haired; her skin wrinkled with time but her eyes appeared youthful. He guessed she was in her late seventies or eighties.
“Thank you for coming,” she said, her voice soft. 'Would you be so kind as to help me with my case? I’m not as strong as I once was.”
“No problem.” His eyes adjusted to the dimness as he followed along a wood- panelled hall with doors leading from both sides. An uncarpeted staircase rose into the dark. In a spacious room sheets covered every piece of furniture. On the dark stained wood floor a small case rested.
“It’s all I have,” she said.
Charlie picked up the case and for an instant was staggered by its weight. “What you got in here, love? The Crown jewels.”
A thin smile formed on her lips. “My husband died many years ago and we were never blessed with children. In that small case is my life.”
“Look, love, I’ll put this in the car and come back for you. Don’t want you falling down those steps, do we?”
She closed the door and locked it. “I’ll wait right here. You are very kind.”
Charlie ran back and with care took her arm, descended the steps and walked to the car.
She stopped, turned, tilting her head to the upper floors. She glanced away as if the recollections were sad. Tears formed and ran over her cheeks.
“Are you going away?” asked Charlie.
She shook her head as if amused. “Forever, young man, forever. Please,” she fumbled in her purse and removed a card, “take me here.”
“Lavender House. Not sure where that is.”
She smiled reassuringly. “Are you in a hurry?”
Her cheeks flushed. “I was born, grew up, married and will die in this town. Would you drive me along the high street one last time and then on to the park?”
Charlie checked the time.
“Sorry, I forget that others have a life.”
“No problem. A one bed council flat, pizza or fish and chips, describes my existence.”
A long silence followed. “Can I sit in the front passenger seat?”
Charlie helped her in and fastened the seat belt.
The blue Ford Sierra eased along the road while she chatted constantly about who lived when and where. The church where she was married was now a carpet warehouse. He stopped at the park.
“I’ve asked for too much but I’d love one more go on the swings.”
Charlie smiled. “And why not? Come on, love, take my arm.”
She sat on the one swing that worked, gently moving back and forth. “When I was a girl, I’d come here and chat to the boys.”
The street lights came on as the last remnants of the sun disappeared.
“It’s time,” she said.
“Hold my arm,” said Charlie.
“You’re a good boy. Not many care for an old woman as you have.”
“You remind me of my old mum.”
At the car she slid into the passenger seat.
Charlie found the home and drove up the long winding drive, stopped and helped her out.
“How much do I owe you?”
Charlie peered into the car. “Shit,” he muttered, “I forgot to trip the meter.” He lifted his head and smiled. “It’s on me.”
She hugged him and he held her tight. “Take this and thank you.” She pressed a few notes into his hand, turned and entered the building.
He shoved the money into his pocket and stood there for a few minutes. “I’ll come and make sure she's alright in a couple of days,” he uttered. “Time for me fish and chips.”
In the café he ordered his favourite, cod and chips with mushy peas.
The waitress placed the overflowing plate in front of him. “Had a busy day, Charlie?”
“Bloody awful, Sheena.” From his pocket he pulled the crumpled notes. He stared at five fifty pound notes.
She chuckled. “Couldn’t have been that bad. Fancy a coffee at my place?”
That night Charlie couldn’t sleep. He leant against the headboard, his mind in a whirl. By six he gave up trying, he showered, dressed and ate breakfast.
At Lavender House, he stood at the entrance and removed a buff envelope from his pocket. He checked its contents. With determination he entered and found reception.
“Can I help you?” asked a blonde middle-aged woman.
“I hope so. Last night I dropped a grey-haired woman here at eight. It was dark and she paid too much.”
Her smile was grim. “You must be Charlie. She said you’d be back and I was to give you this.”
He smiled and placed his envelope on the desk. “This is her change.”
The woman grimaced. “I’m sorry, she died during the night.”
Confused, he picked up the envelopes, thrust them in his pocket and left. Why he ended up in her street was a mystery. He sat back and read her letter.
Dear Charlie, I’m pleased you came back.
To my lawyer, Brian Menges, 10 High Street, Wickham. This letter is my last will and testament. Everything I have is given without condition to Charlie, (a taxi driver) a man who made my final day wonderful.
Three signatures followed with names and addresses in block capitals.He stared at the sky. “Why me?”