Monday, 1 October 2018

Rock Bottom - P2





Kate looked around at the starkly decorated room and it did nothing to lift her feeling of doom. It was painted battleship-grey and the walls were bare of any adornment, not even a window to distract her from the detectives sitting across the table. She was weary of all the questions they threw at her, not that she had any answers. She was alone on her side of the table, she hadn't asked for a lawyer, after all she was innocent, why would she need one? By her elbow a machine hummed quietly as it recorded every word she uttered. With the back of her hand she wiped away a tear, one of countless tears, endless tears and most of all useless tears.
“Who were the drugs going to?” asked Detective Adams, his arms folded over his chest as he leaned back in the chair giving the impression he never got tired of asking the same things.
“I don’t know,” she said, the machine had recorded this particular I don’t know a dozen times already.
“Where did they come from?” the big guard asked.
“I didn’t even know they were there! I don’t know how they got there! I don’t know where they were going, and I don’t know who they belong to!” she yelled and slapped the table in frustration. “The only thing I do know is that they're not mine and they sure as hell aren’t Barry's either! He wouldn’t touch the stuff!”
“I don’t think you know your husband as well as you think,” said the woman sitting beside Detective Adams. What had she called herself? Sam? Sa something...no, Sims. That was it, Sims.
“What do you mean by that?” Kate asked the woman angrily. Detective Adams flipped the folder laid before him closed and let the four legs of his chair rest flat on the floor.
“Concluding the interview at...ten-fifty-three am,” he announced for the benefit of the machine and then switched it off. He scribbled a few notes on the outside of his file. He then turned his eyes on Kate as if deciding what he should say next. The man had a presence, his face was scared but he had kind eyes.
“Mrs Rusk, your husband has told us you knew nothing about the drugs,” he said.
“I’ve been telling you that for hours,” she said and heard the exasperation in her voice. It was like this was some stupid prank that had gone too far.
The guard sighed and pushed on with what he was staying, “He said you knew nothing about the drugs and was clear on that point, but he has refused to say anything else."
"I'm not surprised. Barry would never have anything to do with drugs...neither of us would."
"We didn't end up at your house by accident and neither did those drugs."
"So?" Kate asked like a petulant teenager. It was refreshing to be the one asking the questions for a change, even if it was one of one syllable.
"Someone put those drugs in your garage, it if wasn't you, it could only be your husband."
"But why would he? Was he minding them for someone?”
“That much...hardly,” said the guard. Kate thought back to the five little packets lying on the floor of her garage. She knew nothing about drugs. Was that a lot?
“How much are we talking about?” she asked
“A lot. On the street what we found could be worth between fifty and eighty thousand euro, depending on the purity of course.”
That loomed large in Kate’s mind. Fifty thousand or more...Jesus. Those were figures that made national headlines and she remembered seeing jail sentences in double figures for less. She felt the foundation of her reason wobble a bit before reality came to the rescue. The people in the papers were scumbags, drug-dealers and criminals. She and Barry were nothing like that, they were innocent people caught up in something stupid...surely they’d see that?
“I don’t know what happened but I’m sure there's a rational explanation," she pleaded, hoping they would see how sincere she was being with them. She’d told them nothing but the truth from the moment she got here.
"If there is we won't get to the bottom of it with your husband refusing to talk," the woman said, her words more unforgiving than the man's.
The two detectives got up to leave, tucking folders under their suited elbows. Kate should have been happy to see them go but she wasn’t. Somehow when they were sitting there asking their daft questions the world made sense.
“What happens now?” she asked, and the two detectives paused.
“You’re free to go, for the moment, Mrs Rusk. Someone will come to get you soon," the man said and was about to walk away when he stopped. "I would advise you to talk with your husband. We're not the ones he needs to worry about. Someone is out a lot of money and they're not going to be happy." Then the two of them walked into the corridor and slammed the door behind them. With the clang still echoing through the room Kate collapsed back in the hard-plastic chair.
About ten minutes later a female guard with a rosy complexion appeared at the door. "Right, my love, let’s get you out of here."
The woman made inane small-talk as they walked towards the front of the police station. Was it that she was ignorant of the destruction that had rained down on Kate's life, or perhaps it was the woman's shield against the grimy world she was forced to deal with every day? Kate signed a form and her meagre belongings were returned to her. She looked around but there was no sign of Barry. She turned on her phone and tried his number, but it rang out. She was still wearing the clothes she hurriedly put on during the raid the night before. She had no keys for the house, or purse, she had nothing. She tried Barry's phone again with the same result. Not knowing what else to do she returned to the desk where a grumpy sergeant stood. She felt like a school girl approaching the principal’s office.
"Will my husband be released soon," she asked timidly. 
The man gave her a cold look and said, "Mr Rusk is being kept in custody until he appears before the Four-Courts, later today."  That was the final straw for Kate's self-control. She felt her bottom lip quiver and saw the look of dread light up in the eye of the stringent man on the other side of the desk. She felt helpless: standing in her nightclothes, not a penny in her pocket, nobody to help fix things and all she seemed capable of doing was crying. She saw the desk sergeant’s eyes go skyward as Kate's sobs morphed into full-on bellows of despair. This man dealt with violent criminals’ day in and day out but faced with a blubbering female he went to pieces. In a semi panic he called over the cheery woman that had brought her up from the interview room.
"Get her home, would you," he said to the woman and turned his back busying himself with the important task of tidying up papers. To her credit, the female guard didn’t flinch at the chauvinistic overtones in the man’s command. Instead she came to Kates side and placed a warm hand on her shoulder. She cooed reassurances in Kate’s ear as she moved her charge away from the desk.
It turned out there were no police cars available to take her, so the guard organised a taxi for her and even billed it to the station. Kate was deeply grateful to the kind female guard despite the fact is was her lot that locked eher up in the first place. Kate waited outside the station for her lift to arrive and was never so grateful to be out in the open. Although she had only spent a few hours locked up, it had been a few hours too many. She didn’t know how Barry could be coping any better than she was.
Half-an-hour later, a hard-worked taxi creaked its way across the city with Kate trying to make herself as small as possible in the back seat. Thankfully the driver was a taciturn individual and less than happy having a criminal in his car. The only thing he’d asked was her address and after that he was content to listen to the radio. She pretended not to see his vailed glances in the rear-view mirror, if she had been in his position she would be keeping a weather eye out as well.
The radio played middle of the road pop music, designed to lubricate the masses through their mundane daily chores. Given the way her night and morning had turned out, a mundane day seemed like heaven to Kate. Right now, she was a living contradiction. She tried to diminish her presence in the car by sitting statue still but inside her mind was in turmoil. Shocks were piled on top of shocks, half told secrets, ridiculous revelations, nonsensical allegations, complete over-reactions all hammered at her sensibilities until she was incapable of any sort of thought at all. No matter what angle she approached her situation from, no answers appeared. It might have been her own stupidity, but this was all beyond her. The more she tried to come up with a way out of her troubles, the more troubles she seemed to have.  
On the car radio, the music gave way to the news. Stories of political infighting were interspaced by a bus strike and the restriction of Irish fishing rights. Then the newsreader uttered words she would never forget. “Gardai have seized of a substantial quantity of drugs in the north of Dublin City. A man in his forties and a woman in her late thirties are expected before the courts later today. In other news, the protests at the historic burial site on Tara continue...
Jesus, hearing that made it all so real. The world knew now. They’d said a woman and man were expected before the courts, did that mean she might still face charges from whatever was going on? Could she yet end up in prison because of all this? Today had been enough, more than enough. There was no way she could survive inside jail. And what about Toby? The taxi driver glanced back at Kate and this time he didn’t try to disguise his distain. Kate looked down at her hands and folded them into a parody of prayer, refusing to meet the man’s gaze. As seconds ticked by she felt the weight of the drivers eyes lift off her and she breathed out. He could think what he liked, all she wanted to do was get home to Toby.
Outside the taxi window everything was looked so normal, college students walked toward classes with bed-head hair and hungover eyes, postmen delivered letters, an old lady dragged a wheeled carrier away from the bus-stop toward the supermarket, pigeons searched the sidewalk for crumbs. Everything was as it should be. Inside the taxi, everything was different. She was being treated like a criminal by the police: there were bags of drugs hidden in her lawnmower, armed men had broken into her home in the middle of the night, she’d been dragged away in handcuffs, her son was frightened beyond words with nobody but the neighbours to comfort him...shit she wasn’t even sure she knew who her husband was. The world inside the taxi was a fucking mess, a big one.
All her adult life Barry had been there to guide her, to answer her questions, tell her what to do, to handle the decisions. Where was he now? On his way to the Four-Courts, manacled to a ruddy-great guard is where he was, and she was sure there’d be plenty of reporters on hand to record her humiliation. This was going to ruin them completely. 
With that thought came another one. What if the reporters were waiting at the house? That thought made her stomach flip. She imagined Toby watching his mother being chased down by a pack of blood-thirsty journalists, watching his parents being tried on the six-o’clock news every night, it would ruin him. Toby might still be a child, but that didn’t mean he was stupid. She straightened in her seat and did her best to gather herself. She was Toby’s mother and she needed to be strong for him, for them.   
As her road came into sight she crossed her fingers. “Please, please, please,” she asked the great entity in the sky, but didn’t have the wherewithal to know what word to put after Please.  Her house appeared in the distance and her weak mantra seemed to have done the business. There were no gangs of reporters or even fluttering crime scene tape to mark her home as the one now being talked about across the whole of the country. If there were any hidden blessings to this whole debacle, this could be counted as one.
“The third on the right please,” she said to the driver and he pulled up at the end of her drive way without a friendly word. Kate climbed out of the car and closed the door, delighted to be away from the mute monstrosity of a man with his judgemental eyes.   
Kate turned toward her neighbours’ home, Clare’s home, her best friend. The only one she had been able to turn to in her time of need. It had taken a lot of persuasion on her part to get the Guards to allow Clare to mind Toby last night, they had wanted to turn him over to social services. Kate shuddered at the thought of it, it would be like locking him up. No matter what had happened, no matter how those drugs had found their way into her life and her home there was no way she was going to have her son become one of those kids abandoned to the incompetence of the state. The sad thing was she had no family she could fall back on. She had been an only child from a well to do family. Her Dad had passed away years ago and her mother was in a nursing home now, believing everyday was taking place in the 1950’s. Without Clare she didn’t know what she would have done.
Kate had taken three steps toward the house before the front door burst opened and Toby came rushing toward her. He was still in his pyjamas and crying so hard she couldn’t make out what he was saying. She scooped her little man into her arms and near crushed him with desperate delight. Whatever fortifications she’d built up during the taxi ride crumbled and she began to gush again. Clare appeared at the door and paused there, letting Kate comfort Toby in her own way. When she did come across, her face was drawn and concerned, her arms were folded tightly across her chest as if warding off a great evil.
Kate hoped Clare could see past all the police, and radio reports, to see the truth. They were great friends and neighbours for years, but this was something that could rock the most solid of relationships. The truth was, Kate needed Clare now more than she ever needed anyone in her life. She couldn’t blame the woman if she turned and walked back too her own house and slammed the door, but she prayed she wouldn’t. Kate had no Barry, no family, no support of any kind, she had no idea what had happened or what was yet to come. If she was forced to face it alone, she was sure she would fall apart.
“We’re not drug dealers...” she started to say before Clare cut across her.
“I know you’re not, yea stupid mare,” she scoffed and threw her arms around both, gathering them to her motherly bosom. When she let them go Clare said, “Who knew I was living next-door to Al Capone.” Kate knew beneath the joke her friend was worried, but she loved Clare for the bravado. It was just what she needed right now. Clare pointed at the house and said, “I sent Jimmy to stay at your place after the coppers left. The door’s busted and it wouldn’t lock properly.”
“You’re so good, both of you. Thanks for minding him,” Kate said nodding toward the shaking child in her arms.
“Don’t be daft.”
“Look, come over once I get Toby settled and I’ll explain everything.”
“You don’t have to explain anything to...”
“I want to. I need to talk about it. Please”
“I’ll be round later so, if you’re sure.”
“I’m sure,” said Kate as she forced a smile on her face. She pried Toby away from her so she could to talk to him.
“Really, everything’s’ fine. Those men won’t be back, ever, I promise,” she said and kissing the tip of the nose, something she knew he hated. He’d normally say Phooey and rub the kiss away. Today it just made him cry a little less.
“I’ll tell Jimmy you’re back,” Clare said, turning toward Kates home. She didn’t get far before Jimmy appeared at the door. Kate went to thank him for his help but Jimmy sprang away from her as if electrocuted. He pretended not to see her as he hurdled the low hedge between the houses and vanished into the safety of his own home. Clare’s face said she was beyond livid. Kate could see her friend’s back bunch up with rage and her hands balled into fists. When she turned around Clare’s cheeks were burning with shame.
“He’s a spineless...” she said but it was Kate’s turn to kindly interrupt the apology.
“It’s fine, who could blame him?”
“I could and will!” Clare said savagely and stormed after her absconded husband. Kate felt sorry for Jimmy; being arrested again would be a kinder fate than facing Clare in the mood she was currently in.  
When Kate got inside the house she saw what Clare meant about the door. The Guards must have hit it with a sledgehammer or something. The lock had been forced in and the door jamb was all splintered. Kate closed the door and wedged a dining room chair under the handle. That was when she noticed everything else. All her belongings had been moved, drawers searched and haphazardly thrown back. It didn’t exactly qualify for term trashed but the house felt trashed to her.
Toby was still sobbing softly into her neck and she needed to do something to assure him that normal life was still going on.
“Are you hungry, baby?” she asked but he shook his head in the negative.
“Are you sure? You look sleepy, are you feeling tired?” to this he gave a nod yes and sniffled. “Come on and I’ll tuck you in for a nap,” she said carrying him up the stairs.
“Where’s Daddy?” he asked softly.
“He is still helping those people that were here find what they lost. I’m sure he will be home soon.”
“Did they look under the couch cushions?”
“What?” she asked concerned, pausing on the stairs to look at Toby. What could Toby know about this?
“When Daddy loses his car keys they are always under the cushions on the couch.”
“Oh, I see,” she said, and she had to smile at that. “It was the first place they looked and no, it wasn’t there. Anyway, there’s nothing to worry about. Daddy will be back very soon.” This seemed to make Toby a lot more...relaxed.”
 Thankfully Toby’s room looked no messier than it normally did. She got him into bed and tucked his duvet tight under his chin like he liked. She was about to get off the bed when his little hand shot out and took hers.
            “Don’t go, Mom,” he said. She looked down at his face and smiled.
            “Make room so, I could do with a little cuddle.” She settled in beside him and felt his warm little arm come to rest across her neck. It was true, she did need this. She wanted to wish this whole nightmare day away. If only she could close her eyes and wake up yesterday, when everything in her life made sense, but that was never going to happen. She tried to close her eyes, but sleep wouldn’t come and that was despite the warmth of the bed and the gentle snores of her child. Eventually, she slipped out of the bed to make a start on reordering her world.
            She put a call into a builder who’d remodelled the kitchen last year. After a bit of pleading the man promised to have a carpenter call over before the end of the day to repair the front door. When that was done she set about straightening out everything, cleaning and polishing as she went. The house felt unclean like it wasn’t hers anymore. She rubbed the surfaces so violently it was like she was trying to scrub the tarnish of criminality from her life. Deep down she knew what she was doing was useless.
The rubbish bin in the kitchen was overflowing but she kept adding more to the pile instead of emptying the liner. The reason was simple, the wheelie bins were in the garage, the source of all her heart ache. Eventually, she had no choice but to empty the thing and chided herself for being so stupid. She snatched the black bag out of the dustbin, spilling some of the contents on the kitchen floor. With harsh movements she knotted the top of the bag and approached the door to the garage. She flung it open and stood before the black void inside. Her hand hovered over the light switch, but her fingers refused to bend. Her breathing quickened, and she felt the tiny hairs along the back of her neck prickle. The air coming at her was cool and filled with the smell of paint, old oil, drying clay, rubber boots and dust. It was the smell of her childhood, it was the smell of her daddy’s garden shed. How she loved that place, nearly as much as he loved it, it was their sanctuary from the tireless disapproval of her mother. She remembered so many lost days, the two of them hiding away from the tyrant they lived with. Wet days were the best, she would never come looking for either of them as long as it was pouring down. She could still feel the hard clay encrusted workpants under her legs as she sat on his lap listening to stories of long dead Irish heroes and their deeds. His deep baritone voice making the words come alive until the pictures were unleashed in her mind as a technicolour movie. He could make the most trivial things seem enormous. She really wished he were here now, to take her on his knee and assure her that everything would work out just fine.
She took one more deep breath and flicked the switch down. The harsh florescent light flickered once, then once again before plinking into life.  The blinding light chased away the ghost of her Daddy and with it any comfort he had brought her. There, in the middle of the floor lay the cause of all her misery, the lawnmower. The sight of it sent a shiver down her back and she marched past it stiffly, slamming the bag she carried into the green dustbin. She turned back and was about to storm out again when she stopped. Why was she being like this? What would it achieve? Pretending stuff didn’t exist was not going to get her anywhere. If she couldn’t even confront an inanimate piece of garden machinery, how was she going to deal with everything to come. She walked over and stood over the thing. The grass collecting basket was off and lying on the ground beside the mower. She pushed it with her foot and the opening came into view. There was nothing inside it now but dried out husks of grass. Gone were the small bricks of poison that might yet send her to prison. What a stupid place to hide drugs. The only place worse would be under the bed! It was as if....
It was as if someone wanted them found. Her jaw unlocked and hung slack, pulling the skin of her cheeks down and her eyes wide. Someone wanted those drugs found! How did the guards pick this house to search? How did they find the drugs within minutes of coming into the house and who in their right mind would hide a fortune in illegal drugs in a fucking garage? They had been set up! No, not they, Barry! For the first time, it all made sense.
Barry was always bragging about how well his company was doing. How he was the envy of other engineers. How he undercut, drove hard deals, dealt harshly with those who got between him and success. Had some of those chickens come home to roost? Some of those contracts were worth tens, no hundreds of thousands of euro. Could it be that one of Barry’s rivals had decided to plant drugs in their house, inform the guards, the watch as the rest unfolded. It was plausible, more than plausible! It had to be what happened.
Kate felt a rush of exhilaration run through her. She had to call those detectives and tell them what she’d figured out. Once they knew what she knew, they would find the person responsible, she was sure of it! She dashed from the garage to the kitchen to get her phone, but a crash echoed through the house, making her freeze on the spot. It was the chair she’d placed against the handle of the door falling over. For the second time in one day, her house was being invaded, and this time she was alone.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Price of a Happy Home

I was standing at the bar when Mary, (not her real name), came staggering in under a ton of IKEA bags.

"Some light shopping," I joked as she laid her load by the bar.

"I need a brandy or a Sherpa if you have one."

"A brandy so," I said happily and let the amber liquid flow into the glass.

"I've had the week from hell," she huffed and took a sip from the drink.

"Go on, tell me more," I asked and settled in for her story. I like Mary, she has a dry wit that tickles my funnybone.

She rested her elbows on the counter and began. "The other day I found four floating-shelves down in the Co-Op and knew they'd look great beside the fireplace. When I got home, John (not his name either) hit the roof when he saw the price of them. That much? For a bit of timber and a few screws? It's daylight robbery! he said. Nothing would do him but to take the shelves back."

"Why didn't you put your foot down and say you wanted them?" I asked, polishing a glass to seem industrious.

"You know what John's like. Life wouldn't be worth living if I did that. Anyway, an hour later he lands back home with a plank of timber, a box of screws, a box of wall plugs and some brackets. He said he got it all for half the price of the shelves, not that I believe him. He starts measuring and I just knew in my bones that it was going to be a disaster. Before long he was hacking up the timber with a rusty old hand-saw. Now, John couldn't could cut a straight line if his life depended on it. Sure enough the ends were all cockeyed. So he cuts off another bit, then a bit more and before he's finished the things are too short. You should've heard the language out of him, it would make a sailor blush."

"Now that does sound like John," I agreed. "Did he give up?"

"Like heck he did. Back down the Co-Op he went and this time he came back with more timber and a bench saw! Flipping thing cost nearly two hundred quid but he said it was good value because he'd use it again. Anyway this time the shelves were cut and the edges were straight. He marked up the walls and drilled holes for the brackets. In fairness, they looked grand when he had them up."

"Job done," I said with a smile and gave the bar around her glass a wipe.

"Not even close. An hour later I looked up and saw the shelves were...drooping."

"Drooping?"

"Yes, the brackets he'd gotten weren't strong enough. The whole lot had to come back down and he was off to the Co-Op again. This time he came back with huge ugly iron triangles. He was in such a mood by now that he didn't even bother measuring again. He just guessed where the holes should go and drilled. He was like a dog. I couldn't tell him they were all crooked or that there were holes all over the wall, he would have exploded. They are up a week now and stuff keeps sliding off whenever someone slams a door. John won't even look at them, its like he's pretending they don't exist."

"Oh God, I can see why you need a brandy. What are you going to do about them?" I asked.

"Ah, they wont last long. I've been prying them off the wall a bit at the time. They'll fall down any day soon," laughed Mary and took another sip of her brandy.

"Is that why he let you go mad with the credit card," I asked nodding at the bags on the ground.

"Yes, and no," she said cryptically.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I wanted some stuff for the bathroom so I made a big list of materials waited until the match was due to start then handed him the list and suggested he pop down the Co-Op for it. Well, he took one look at the list and said, This lot will cost a fortune, you'd get if for half the price in that IKEA place," and like that, I was free to go shopping while he watched the match.

"Mary, that's positively Machiavellian!"

"Would you get lost with your big words," she said and she picked up her bags to leave. Before she did she gave me a wink and said, "I'll tell you this much, there's more than one way to skin a cat."




Friday, 14 September 2018

The Face of God

The Face of God

I think I've figured out why I love surfing so much. It's the feeling of being out of control, on the edge of destruction, only to survive.

To me, that is the face of God. It's a reminder that we are gifted with the wonder of the universe, laid before us in all its forms and we should feel blessed to be here. In that moment, we could, should, be snuffed out but we are allowed to exist to pay testament to the beauty of this world, this universe, in its finest moment.

It is only on the edge do we really appreciate what a gift life is, don't waste a second.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Fish Food




Fish Food

            The world is a strange place, it’s a list of conundrums. It's vast and minuscule, wild and civilised, discovered and mysterious. Humanity has long-ago shaken off the term animal and promoted themselves to a higher station. As a race we act without question or constraint, we build up, knock down, consume, alter, discard, create and destroy.  We do all these things in the noble name of species but realistically it is the greed of The One which drives us. Seven billion individuals, all scrabbling to have more then they need, careless of what they leave for those that follow behind.

            Nobody noticed the first few occurrences, which is hardly surprising as they happened mid-2018 and the world had more pressing matters to deal with. In America, Trump sat at the head of the most powerful nation on the planet. Nobody knew what to do with him, particularly the Americans. Across the world Mother Russia had its own issues of leadership, entrenched and devious in nature. What were a few dead cats in comparison to that?

            By 2022 the scientific world had started to focus in on the strange...well, beachings. You'd expect whales or dolphins but not birds, dogs, cats, rats and mice. Now that's weird but not weird enough to attract the attention of the public. It took some video footage of an incident on YouTube to do that. A woman with about a dozen dogs decided to capture her trip to the beach with a GoPro. As they drove up to the car park, the dogs began to go wild in the back of the car, barking and whining, pawing at the glass to be let out. As soon as the woman opened the boot of the car she was near floored by the wall of on-rushing animals. They raced across the car park and down the beach toward the ocean. By now the woman knew something was amiss and called them to heel. The animals ignored her and rushed straight in to the water, shoving through rolling waves and pounding surf until they were swimming well out of their depth. The camera bounced as the woman chased after her pets, screaming for them to come back. She actually managed to catch up with one old dog and pluck him out of the water. The hound thrashed and struggled, eventually snapping at the woman's fingers causing her to drop him. Immediately the little dog resumed his single-minded journey out to sea. The little terrier didn’t make it past the line of breakers. He was pushed down again and again by the waves until he drowned. Not once did he try and turn back toward shore. The woman’s anguished cries can be heard on the video as she called for her pets to return. One or two of the stronger ones made it all the way out of sight but most eventually bobbed and sank while the video rolled. Not one dog survived.

Bill Ashton had been working at The White House since the impeachment of President Trump. The country was still reeling from the chaos of those years. Thankfully they had a steady hand on the helm now in Dean Bell. Some might even say boring. No midnight tweets, no rants at other heads of state, no making up national policy on the back of a bar napkin and writing it into law the following day. Bill had heard all the stories and a little bit of him wished he had been around for the excitement. Today was another working day and Bill started shifting through the mountain of internal memos that waited on his e-mail. Whittling down what those above him needed to be bothered with. When he came across a request from the CDC, or Center for Disease Control for funding. Bill wasn't exactly sure what he should do about it.

The CDC was one of those sit-up-and-take-notice departments. A bit like the CIA calling to your house for a little chat. It was mostly nosiness that made Bill pick up the phone and call Professor Stanton, the requesting authority, to find out more. Basically Professor Stanton said there had been dozens of animal drownings across the country. He and his team were trying to figure out why. The latest find was a whole island of brown bears found floating near the mouth of a river in Canada. They wanted to go up there and do biopsies on the bears to see if they could match something to what was going on in the states. This needed to be cleared by The White House and permission sought from Canadian authorities. Bill promptly sent on the request up the line and forgot all about it.

Six months later a Greyhound bus on the Golden Gate bridge grabbed the attention of the world. Half way across the driver simply stopped the bus, opened the door, walked to the edge and jumped. That was weird enough but when nine passengers followed him over the edge the story made national headlines. One eye witness described them as sleepwalking or like zombies. The term Water Zombies caught the imagination of the world. Right around the country similar incidents began to happen and the press were baying for a statement from the President. An emergency meeting was called to formulate a response.

The boardroom was stuffed, Bill stood, after all he was only a bit player in this particular drama. They all waited on the leading man to arrive. Bang on time the door opened, and President Bell strode confidently into the room. All the chairs squeaked as people started to stand but the President said, "Stay seated everyone. Thanks for coming today. Ok, let’s get started, time is not our friend. How many incidents have we confirmed?" he asked taking a seat and looking around the table.

The Secretary of State coughed before speaking, "Over eighty. There's been a sharp spike of suicide for no reason, and unexplained drownings, but confirming they're connected is impossible. All the dead were autopsied, nothing in common. They come from different parts of the country, different economic backgrounds. The only thing that links them is this apparent hypnotized type demeanour before the event."

"Could they have been hypnotized?" asked the President looking around the table.

"It's impossible for someone to be made harm themselves under hypnosis, your brain just won't let it happen," said a lady toward the end of the table.

"And you are?" asked the President.

"State department, Sir, but I'm also a Doctor of Psychology," the lady said looking bashful now she realised who she was addressing. The President smiled to ease her tension.

"What makes someone take their own life?" he asked.

The lady smiled at him and answered. "Depression, lots of other illnesses, most of which stem from chemical imbalances. They take time to develop where all of these people seem to be alright one minute and then dead the next."

"Is there someone here from the medical examiner’s office?" asked the President and a man near the top of the table raised his hand. "Were there any drugs found in the bodies?"

"In some yes, in other no. Nothing common to them all. Nothing like Spice."

"Spice?"

"A synthetic marijuana. Sometimes called the zombie drug."

"So if it’s not a known drug could it be some chemical weapon?"

"Not one of ours," said a medal strewn General.

"Someone else?"

"It’s possible," said the General and he actually seemed happy about that fact.

The President rubbed his head as if a headache were building. At last he looked up, "Ok, I want the military to open up all research in this area to a discovery team made up of people from the state department and medical examiner’s office..."

"Sir, they don't have the necessary clearance," objected the General.

"They do now," said the President angrily. "and I want a CIA report on my desk about the activities of our enemies. Now my friends, the wolfs await." He got to his feet. In an adjoining room the press were waiting for their pound of flesh.


***

President Bell went before the nation and assured them that every action would be taken to assist the families of these tragic events and no stone would be left unturned to find an answer to this strange behaviour. Despite his assurances, the situation got worse. All across the globe mammals of all descriptions were throwing themselves into the water, lemming style, including people. Sometimes whole groups would be affected, sometimes it was just one in the midst of many who suddenly took to the water. It was as if they were being drawn to it. 

Oceans, lakes, rivers, pools, canals. It didn't matter the type. People were diving in and refusing to come out until they physically could not swim any more. Some even drowned within touching distance of the edge and would not reach out to save themselves.

The plague spread across the world. There were photos of the Ganges in India, so thick with floating bodies that it is possible to walk from one side to the other without getting your toes wet. Floating islands of corpses were found in both Atlantic and Pacific, bodies pushed from all over the planet by the tides. Ghost ships bobbed in the waters, all crew vanished forever. Despite the combined might of science, nobody could explain what was happening.

Bill was at his desk one day when a call came in that would change his world and the world in general forever, "Bill Ashton's desk," he answered. On the other end of the line an elderly voice coughed and spluttered before speaking.

"Mr Ashton, this is Professor Stanton from the CDC. I called you about a funding issue some months back, do you remember."

"Canada, I think. I'm sorry but I only really direct the mails, Professor, I don't grant the fees," explained Bill.

"No, no. I got the money. It’s not about that. I am calling because I think I know what is causing this crisis."

"You do? Have you not reported it to your superiors in CDC?" Bill said, getting excited despite himself.

"Of course I have but they won't listen. They call me a kook."

"At this stage I would imagine they would listen to anyone. This situation is...unprecedented."

"On the contrary, young man, this situation is so precedented it is down-right normal."

"What do you mean?"

"Evolution, my friend, evolution."

"Professor, I'm afraid I don't follow."

"What is causing the behaviour is a parasite. A microscopic worm called Dipyllothrium or Dippy for short. It’s a worm found in fish."

"Professor..."

"You have to listen to me. I must get this information to the President. You are the only one I know in The White House, you must get me in touch with him. The future of the human race could depend on it." Bill hung his head. This old guy sounded like a kook and if his own people wouldn't listen to him, how much of a fool was he going to look bringing this to the president. On the other hand, people were dying, and nobody had any answers. Could he live with being the man who would not list to the man who held the answers?

"Ok, Professor, give me your number. I’m not promising anything, but I will do my best."

Bill brought his information to his supervisor and the decision was made to fly Professor Stanton up to Washington and present what he suspected to a panel of experts. Bill was told to attend, after all, he was the one vouching for this man.

Two days later the meeting room was filled with doctors and experts of all description. Bill met Professor Stanton at the gate and escorted him up. The man produced ancient laptop with Star Wars stickers on the cover and Bill groaned internally. Stanton must've been seventy years old if he was a day. His hands shook as he tried to fit the projector cable to the side of the machine. Bill felt his job slipping away from under him. That was the moment the meeting room door opened and President Dean Bell walked in. Bill's stomach went into knots. The room jumped to its feet and Bill's supervisor went to speak to the president.

"Is this the man," asked President Bell, nodding toward the white-haired Professor.

"Yes, Sir, but we haven't assessed his theory yet. I was going to..."


"Well I'm here now, why not see what he's got," said the President walking past Bill's supervisor and approaching the Professor with his hand extended.

"Dean Bell," he said shaking the Professors hand.

"Jim Stanton," said the professor warmly.

"Show us what you got, Jim," said the President moving to stand beside Bill rather than taking a seat at the table with the polished brass of his administration.

Professor Stanton was surprisingly short, "This is Dipyllorthrium or Dippy for short." he said indicating a small nondescript squiggle on the screen. "It’s a parasitical worm found in most species of fish. Basically, one fish eats another, they are transferred to the new host, bread and reproduce. They are completely harmless to both the fish and those that eat the fish, or at least they were. As you are aware, the global fish stocks have been diminished by over fishing in the last number of decades. With less fish, there were less fish eating fish and the numbers of these worms were being wiped out. This triggered a drastic change in they way these little creatures act. I believe they have evolved to produce chemicals that make their host unstoppably attracted to bodies of water, and as such, returning the worms back to their breeding grounds. All Dippy wants is to be fish food.

"How small are they?" asked one man.

"Tiny, invisible to the human eye," said Stanton.

"You are telling me something that small can control what we do and think."

"Viruses are far smaller and yes, Dippies in numbers could produce enough chemicals to make even a host as big as a human their drone.

"You say all fish have these? I ate tuna for lunch, why have I not lept into the Potomac?" said the same man who had questioned the size of the worms.

"Have you seen the Potomac since lunch?"

"No."

"Well you might well do, yet. You see, I believe this chemical reaction is triggered by what we see. These worms tend to gather, on mass, in brain tissue, including optical nerves. Also, not all Dippies have evolved to produce this reaction, but they are learning. Therefore more and more people are being affected."

"What evidence have you of this theory," asked President Bell, sounding more respectful than the previous questioners.

"In a group bear drowning in Canada I found elevated numbers of Dippies in all the bear brain samples I collected.  I have since went back and biopsied all the samples collected from earlier events and found similar numbers. I offer no guarantees only a possibility," said the Professor, folding his arms across his chest. The room remained silent for a long time. In the end it was President Bell who spoke.

"Get this information out to all medical examiners in the country. I want all available victims tested for this...Dippy worm and I want the results on my desk before they go on anyone else’s. " Nobody moved. "Now please," said the president quietly and the whole room jumped to its feet and rushed out. When only Professor Stanton, Bill and the President were left, the president turned to the older man and asked, "What can we do to stop this."

"Simple really. Don't eat the fish," said Stanton.

"And if we have?"

"Stay away from the water."



The End

Friday, 31 August 2018

Rock Bottom


     She sat up in bed wondering if the men she could hear shouting in the darkness were part of some vivid dream. When she heard feet pounding up her stairs, she knew this was no dream. 
     She reached out to wake Barry but he was already out of bed and racing toward the disturbance. The bedroom door exploded inward and she heard herself scream, Barry jumped back as a figure in black battle dress rushed into the room with a shouldered machine gun. Barry’s hands shot skyward as a second man rushed into the room and knocked her husband back onto the bed. The lights came on, throwing this nightmare into stark reality. Her heart was racing and her voice box seemed frozen solid. The man kneeling on her husband’s back was roaring, “Armed Gardai! Don’t move!”
            More and more people entered the room and Kate suddenly realised she was naked. She pulled the duvet up to her chest and started to shout at the men invading her home. “Stop! Stop this! Get out! Get out! Leave him alone!” as screamed as Barry was handcuffed. The gaping muzzle of the gun shifted position until it was aimed directly at her and anything she was about to say vanished from her mind. Never in her life had she felt so violated, so helpless.
            “Hands out in front, now!” yelled the man. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t think, this was all wrong, all so terribly wrong.
            “NOW!” the man yelled and the gun jerked in his hand. She dropped the cover and rammed her hands out like one of the cartoon mummies. The chill air played across her chest and felt the eyes of these men, these strangers, ogling her. The cold steel clamped down on her wrists and pinched her skin.
            “No,” she said weakly, but her plea elicited no sympathy from the eyes floating behind the plastic visor. Kate used both hands to snatch up the duvet and cover her breasts.
            The man with the gun turned his head toward the door and said, “Clear.” A tall suited man entered the room. He was over six feet and had a serious face. He nodded and the man with the gun stowed his weapon. When he spoke, his voice was quiet but his words carried authority beyond their decibels.
            “What’s your name?” he asked Barry.
            “Barry Rusk, what’s all this about?” yelled her husband, straining his neck forward causing the veins to stand out under his reddening skin.
            “Barry Rusk, I’m serving you with a court appointed search-warrant for this address as well as business holdings on the Nass Road.”
            “A search warrant...for what? You’ve made a big mistake, huge! I’m going to have the lot of you fired.” Barry yelled struggling with his bonds and trying to sit forward. A black-clad guard placed a gloved hand in his back and pushed him back down.
            Kate felt her blood boil, “Get your filthy hand’s off him. Who do you think you are treating us like this? He’s an engineer... an engineer, not a criminal. Whatever you think you’ll find, you won’t and then you’ll be sorry. This is Ireland for Christ’s sake.”
            The tall man looked at her, his face giving nothing away and instead of explaining himself he asked her, “What’s your name?”
            “Kate, Kate Rusk! Who else would I be?” That was when she heard Toby crying from the room next door. All the shouting must have woken him up. “Take these damn things off me, that’s my son,” she yelled shaking her manacled fists.
            The man turned to one of the other guards standing in the room and said, “Bring the child to Mrs Rusk.”
            “Take these off!” she yelled.
            “Out of the question I’m afraid,” the tall guard said.
            “I’m not having him see me like this,” she yelled and felt hot tears start streaming down her face.
            The guard sighed and rubbed his forehead as he considered the position, then he looked out the door and called to someone unseen. “Can you ask Detective Sim’s to come up here.”
            She heard the door to Toby’s bedroom open and the cries become clearer. She was about to say something when the big guard moved forward and locked her with hard and unflinching eyes. “I’m going to uncuff you but if you set one foot wrong, give me one reason...they’re going straight back on, you got that?” Kate felt herself nod. The tall guard produced a key and removed the restraints. At that moment a female guard appeared in the door walking a crying Toby in by the hand. As soon as he spotted her, Toby rushed across and threw himself up on the bed and into her arms. The big guard turned back to his men and said, “Take Mr Rusk to the sitting room while the search is conducted.” He turned toward the female guard and in a softer tone asked, “Would you take Mrs Rusk to the kitchen?” The woman nodded and moved into the room as the rest of the group led Barry out.
            “What’s all this about?” Kate asked the female guard, hoping the bond of sisterhood would trump any stupid piece of paper a court had mistakenly issued.
            The woman just smiled and said, “Why don’t we get you into some pyjamas and go down stairs?”
***

            Kate was dressed in striped PJ's as she carried a sobbing Toby down the stairs. She turned to join Barry in the sitting room but the female guard behind her rested a hand on her shoulder and said, “Into the kitchen please.”

     As she walked into her own kitchen she felt like a piece of livestock being herded around. Her shock and fear morphed into rage. This was all a mistake, that much was clear, but she wasn’t going to let them off the hook with an apology when this was all over. No, no way! She was going to make them pay and pay big for doing this to her. For victimising her family, for scaring her child, for making her feel helpless. Barry wouldn’t stand for it either, he had that look in his eye upstairs, the look that said he would ruin the men that kicked in the door to their house. At that moment two men with search dogs walked through the hall.
            “Search dogs? What are you looking for?” Kate snapped but the woman stayed mute. This was her kitchen, her home and she was being treated like a...like a...interloper. She wasn’t going to stand for it. “What’s your name?” she demanded.
            “My name is Detective Sims,” said the woman holding out her ID and in a colder tone of voice she said, “Sit...please.”
In the distance Kate could hear the big guard from upstairs questioning Barry and Barry ripping into him in turn. Ten minutes passed before a bellow rang through the house. “Detective Adams, can you come to the garage, I think you should see this.” For no rational reason a chill raced over Kate’s body. It was the excitement in the voice that did it. What could they have possibly found in the garage that necessitated a dozen guards, search dogs, and fucking machineguns!
            A few moments later the big guard in the suit appeared in the door hauling Barry along by the elbow. “Can you come with us Mrs Rusk?” he asked, but it wasn’t a question, it was a command. Detective Sims rested a hand on the back of her arm, urging her to her feet. Kate moved forward and was amazed at the change that had come over Barry. He was no longer demanding they be set free, or that all the guards get the hell out of their house. Now he simply allowed himself to be led with his head bowed.
            “This is ridiculous! I demand you let my family go this instant!” Kate yelled. She was going to keep fighting even if Barry had gone to jelly. She felt Detective Sims’ grip tighten on her arm, readying herself should a struggle break out. There was real strength in that grip and any thought of struggling seemed stupid. Once they were all in the garage the man with the search dog unhooked the grass collector from the lawnmower and began taking out small plastic packages. Five in total.
            “I’ve no idea what they are but they are not ours!” she yelled, turning to her husband, willing him to explain what was happening. If anything, his head was hanging even lower than before. “Tell them Barry.” But Barry said nothing, it was the big guard that spoke.
            He turned to her husband and said, “Barry Rusk, I am arresting you under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. You don’t have to say anything but anything you do say can be recorded and used in evidence against you. You are entitled to have your solicitor, if you don’t have one, a solicitor can be provided for you. Do you understand the rights that have been explained to you?” Barry said nothing, and the big guard motioned for him to be taken away. Toby began to scream and trash in her arms, and honestly, she felt like screaming herself. It felt as if a trap door had been opened under her feet and her life had just plummeted to rock bottom.
            The female guard turned Kate toward her and said, “Kate Rusk, I am arresting you under The Misuse of Drugs Act...” Another trap door opened and rock bottom seemed a very long way up.