Saturday, August 18, 2012

Paragraphs Of Power Semi-Final Number 1...August 2012

Hello and welcome to the first Semi-Final of Paragraphs Of Power for August 2012. The entries are listed by number and title only. Your vote will take 2 of the Semi-finalists through to the Grand Final on August 29th.

 #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?’
“At sunset.”
‘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.”
Arno nodded.
“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.

#2 ...Thackery 

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. 

#3...Father and Son

Father and son Karpik had been petty thieves and swindlers when they lived in Warszawa, so the fact they killed widow Van der Maas in her Amsterdam apartment in the summer of 2011 was more or less accidental. Young Igor Karpik had even cried a little, his snot mixing with the pool of blood that was forming around the poor woman’s corpse. This happened when he stood bent over her, his trembling fingers searching her pockets for her purse. The Karpiks were sure it held the rent they had just paid her and hopefully her credit cards. Father Lukasz, pockmarked and skinny where Igor was broad and compact, pushed his son aside, snatched the fat purse and after checking its contents, hissed between his yellow teeth:

“Come on, let’s go to the post office and take out all that old bitch’s cash.”

#4 ... Switching Off

     The small Cesna aircraft bucked and rolled in the strong-to-gale force wind.   Tom Wenham turned to look at his travelling companion – he’d fallen asleep and seemed unaware of the extreme turbulence.   One minute Tom could see the mountains ahead of him and the next the horizon seemed to be vertical.   He could see that the pilot, his friend Andy ,was having difficulty in controlling the aircraft and his heart thumped noisily in his chest as adrenaline coursed throughout his body.
     Tom had always enjoyed flying, but this flight was something else.   He actually felt scared for the first time ever.  
     Suddenly, the regular beat of the engine changed.   ‘Hell, I don’t like the sound of this, Tom,’ Andy screamed out over the noise as he frantically tried to control the stricken plane.   A few moments later the engine emitted a sound like a hiccough and it was quickly followed by another one.
    ‘Hey Tom…I think we’re in trouble, this old kite can’t cope with this.   Hold on to your seat.’   The scared urgency of Andy’s voice, alerted Tom to the danger the three men were in.
     ‘OK.’    No more words were necessary and he made sure that his seat belt
was fastened correctly.    He then lent over to the man beside him, to make sure his belt was secure.   He didn’t know him, but he felt envious that he was snoring gently while all this was going on around him. How on earth is he managing to sleep through this, he wondered.
      Another violent gust hit the side of the small aircraft sending it completely off course.  
     ‘Andy do you want some help up there?’ Tom shouted as he tried to gain some sort of equilibrium.
      ‘No mate, you just stay where you are.    I’ll be OK.’    Just as these words had passed his lips, the engine coughed, spluttered and then stopped.  ‘Oh shit…now what do we do?’  
      Tom’s legs turned to jelly and he closed his eyes.
     Andy gave out a whoop of excitement.  ‘Hey Andy, I’ve just remembered there’s a small plateau to the west of that mountain.   I’ll try to set her down there.   Hold on to your hat.’
      ‘Yes mate, I can see it,’ Tom said in a panic.   ‘It looks small to me, almost like a pocket handkerchief.’
     ‘It is…so keep everything crossed.’
     A few terrifying moments later, and fighting to control the aircraft, Andy managed to line it up with the achingly small piece of flat land ahead of them.    ‘Here we go…’
     A sudden huge gust of wind hit the side of the Cesna and it was completely blown off the chosen course.    Before they could panic further, the aircraft clipped the side of a rocky outcrop on the side of the mountain.    They didn’t really stand a chance as the aircraft nose-dived just short of the plateau and rolled downwards before coming to a halt in a rocky chasm.
     All around was silence.

#5 ... Offshore

By its very nature, the North Sea is unpredictable.
On a clear day, the surface can be a millpond, still and calm and innocent as it stretches like a polished sheet of steel as far as the eye can see, kissing blue sky at the horizon, the sameness occasionally interrupted by a sailboat, cargo ship or passenger ferry. Waves are small, winds light, visibility excellent.
Unfortunately, days like this are rare. They may dawn bright and clear with the promise of sunshine and the water may lie flat and calm, filling seafarers with hope for a good crossing, but as any experienced sailor will know, looks can be deceiving and the sea can never, ever be trusted.
Without warning the wind can pick up, driving a tidal swell, and restricting visibility to mere feet with dense swirling fog. At times like these all bets are off, because now the placid playground has all the makings of a savage, merciless killer.

Longdrift welcomes you to Falcon Bravo enjoy your stay.

The notice shuddered dramatically, buffeted by the downdraft from the helicopter's rotor blades. Underneath the words of welcome, some wag had taken a permanent marker and added;

May God have mercy on your soul!

To which someone else had appended;

If you're here, then he obviously didn't.

Eddie Capstan could not suppress a chuckle, appreciating the sentiment. Platforms like Falcon Bravo were dismal places at the best of times; when they were unoccupied and abandoned prior to decommissioning; they could be among the loneliest most hostile environments on Earth.
He waited by the sign while the rest of his crew disembarked from the chopper - nine souls in all, eight men and one woman.
A woman! Hell fire, what were they thinking sending her out here with this set of reprobates?
Despite the age old Naval superstition - a woman on board should be considered the worst of bad luck, he could already smell rampant pheromones in the air, the scent of trouble brewing.
A lone female among eight men, isolated 300 miles out to sea on a steel island with nothing to do for the next three months but work, eat and brood. She was going to have to watch her back...and more especially, her front.
Maybe, he thought, she would allow him to play white knight to her damsel in distress and let him take her under his wing and offer her the protection of his...lance. He inwardly grimaced at his own sexist attitude. Pot, kettle, black.
When the last of his workmates had descended the steps from the helipad, he waved his okays and farewells to the pilots, before following them down and slamming the steel bulkhead door, cutting them off from the outside world.
Outside, the helicopter's power increased. It rose gracefully into the air, hovered and pirouetted, and moved off back towards shore. It would not return again until the end of their stint, or unless some kind of emergency arose demanding speedy evacuation.

At its departure, Eddie felt his heart sink into his steel toed boots.

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1 comment:

  1. A high standard of entrant - all deserve to be first.


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