Short Stories

Short Story # 1        Dying to Live
Short Story # 2        The Flower Hunter
Short Story # 3        True or False
Short Story # 4        Virus - Pt 1


copyright © gregstensonstories 2011
Any similarity to persons living or deceased is purely coincidental and not intentional

Present day New York.

The Mistake.

‘Please don’t go, stay and talk, I need you?’ said Hannah.
‘I have to, I’m sorry Hannah, you can call me later, okay?’ said Jacob.
Hannah reached forward and held onto Jacob’s hand as he tried to stand up, he didn’t want to just pull his hand free, so he held hers and calmed her down.
‘Hannah, you're a beautiful woman, you’ll get over him, he wasn’t worth it, I know that’s not going to help you right now but you deserve better, and you will have another child’
‘You're so sweet Jacob, when can I see you again?’
‘I’ll try to make it back here tomorrow for lunch, I promise, text me whenever you wish, now I really have to go, be strong, you have everything to live for’
Hannah stood up and threw her arms around Jacob; she didn’t appear to want to let him go. He was the only one who understood her.

Naomi stood frozen to the spot, she leaned on the handrail, she couldn’t move, an overwhelming feeling of  jealousy and rage took over her. She was walking along the upper floor of the mall and noticed her husband Jacob out of the corner of her eye, he was sitting with a beautiful blond woman, who was she? she thought. She’s holding his hands; he’s holding hers. Naomi didn’t want to believe what she was seeing, they had been married for two years, they were planning to have a baby, why is he holding her hand? A tear came to the corner of her eye.  She continued to watch from above, how could he do this to me, she was distraught. Now they’re holding each other, she has her head on his chest.

‘Hannah, call me okay, don’t do anything stupid’
Hannah kissed Jacob on the cheek; he broke the embrace and walked away towards the exit. Hannah sat down again and paid the bill for their lunch.

Naomi hurried off back to her office, she couldn’t think clearly, all afternoon she just sat there at her desk, sometimes letting the phone ring and ring, she didn’t hear it, nothing made any sense to her at the moment, she had just seen her husband with another woman and it was breaking her heart.

Jacob and Naomi are a young professional couple. He is a lawyer, working hard to get the best cases, hoping one day to make partner. Naomi is an editor with a top New York publishing house, she loved her job and loved Jacob so much they trusted each other implicitly.  They were lovers since college and recently married, finding time to be together is tough, their house seemed to be more like a meeting place, a place to touch base rather than a home where their love and life could flourish.... there was something missing? They were hoping to start a family. That would make them complete, they thought.

Later that evening Naomi arrived home first, she knew she should prepare a meal, she usually put things ready then watched a little TV whilst running on the treadmill in the gym, but tonight she just sat, the scene at lunch was playing over and over in her head. She heard Jacob’s car pull up on the driveway; she stood up instinctively, wringing her hands, her heart was about to explode in her chest. She rushed to the kitchen and tried to act normal, she took out the food and picked up a knife from the block on the counter but her mind was elsewhere. She heard his keys in the door. She froze.
She couldn’t breathe.
‘Hi baby, God I’ve missed you today, what a day’ Jacob said.
Naomi turned to face him, all she could think about was seeing him in the arms of another woman, she saw them holding hands, they held each other and she kissed him.
‘Why Jacob, why?’ her face was set angrily, she still had the kitchen knife in her right hand.
‘Baby, what do you mean’ Jacob smiled at her and walked over to kiss her as he did every evening when he came home, but she pulled away from him.
‘Stay away from me, you, you adulterer’ she said.
Jacob thought she was acting, the TV was on, perhaps it was something she’d seen, any moment now she would laugh, he thought, and throw her arms around him as usual.
Jacob went to the bedroom to change for dinner, Naomi followed him, she still had the knife in her hand.
‘Where are you?’
‘Naomi, I’m in the bedroom darling’
Naomi went numb, she knew he was trying to hide something. How could he lie to her like that, how could he kiss another woman and then come home to her as if nothing had happened. Just as she crossed the hallway Jacob’s cell phone chirped on the hall table. It was a text. She picked it up and pressed the button to see the message. It read.

‘I need you Jacob, when you came to me the other
 night it all made sense
I now know what I want, what I need
 you have helped me so much.
 I hope I see you tomorrow’

She lost control when she saw the text. It was from that woman.
She flipped completely.
She put the phone back down and continued walking into the bedroom.
Jacob reached for her to kiss her again but he felt a sharp stinging sensation in his chest, it took his breath, he looked down and when he saw the blood he realised what had happened. He looked at Naomi, she was still holding the knife, it was dripping with blood, a look of horror on her face, she just stood there transfixed as if in a trance.
Jacob’s vision was becoming cloudy, blackness came over him, the knife had cut straight into his heart, a moment later he collapsed back onto the bed, he was dead. His hands still clasping at his chest, blood was oozing out of the wound onto the sheets.
Naomi was catatonic, she dropped the knife onto the bed and stood over him, she shook him calling his name, Jacob!, Jacob!, wake up come baby….I love you.
She realised just what she had done, she had killed her one and only love, the boy she fell in love with at school, there had never been anyone else for her.
She couldn’t live without him, strange thoughts passed through her mind, she had to be with him, she wanted to follow him wherever he had gone. She picked up the knife, looked at the blade glinting in the light and raised it to her throat. In one movement it was over.
‘I’m coming baby, wait for me…. please’ she said, crying and slumping down on top of his body. Everything was going dark for Naomi now, the pain of losing Jacob was worse then the pain she felt as the blood drained out of her body. Blackness. Silence. She died next to him.

The Decision.

‘Welcome Naomi, please sit down, we want to talk with you, we wont keep you long’
The voice was deep and calm and reassuring. Naomi did as she was asked and sat down in the chair. It was the only furniture in the room. She looked around the room, but it wasn’t really a room. The floor was white, there were no walls, she couldn’t see where the room ended, it didn’t. There was light, a misty light all around her and the man that had talked to her, and asked her to sit down was a tall elderly gentleman with silver hair, a silvery beard and kind eyes. He wore long white flowing robes that touched the floor with big billowy sleeves. He had his hands clasped together in front of him. He was standing perfectly still smiling at her. She felt warm and serene and untroubled.
‘Where am I?’ asked Naomi.
‘You're with friends, don’t worry my dear’ said the man.
‘How long have I been here?’
‘You arrived yesterday my dear, you slept all night, we waited for you to be fully rested before…’
‘Before what?’ asked Naomi.
‘Before we talk to you to find out exactly what happened’
‘Happened? Happened where?’
‘Why, to your life Naomi, and why you came here so early my dear’
Naomi was confused, she tried to think, she couldn’t remember anything, she woke up and felt fine and the last thing she remembered was being brought to see the deep voiced man.
‘We have brought you to what we call the IR, the investigation room my dear, it wont take long. We find it saves a lot of time and suffering. We all make mistakes in life and we are here to find out if there’s any chance of ‘Renewal’’
‘Investigation? Mistakes? Renewal?’ I don’t understand’
‘You will Naomi, you will. Now think back to yesterday my dear, tell me exactly what happened’
Naomi turned away from him, she searched around the room with her eyes and fixed upon a spot somewhere near the ceiling, only there was no ceiling that she could see. She whispered to herself ‘What, what, I can’t remember…’ there was a hazy thought coming to her, she recalled shouting, crying, pain…and Jacob!
‘Jacob, Jacob, where is he, I remember now he went away’
The tall man walked slowly around letting her talk, the more she talked the more she would remember and then he could start to assess to decided which way to go. Where Naomi would go.
‘He, he, he’s gone’ she started to cry.
‘Yes, my dear he’s gone, but what else do you remember Naomi, you're doing very well, tell me what happened?’
She stood up, and put her hands to her face, it came back to her like a thunderbolt; it sent a searing pain to her heart.
‘I killed him, oh my God…. No, No, No…I killed him” she broke down and it all came back to her, the pain, the anguish, the guilt.
‘Yes, my dear, you killed him’
She looked up at him; there was a second revelation when she remembered what happened after that.
‘I, killed myself, I cut my throat’ she paused for a second ‘I’m DEAD’ she said.
‘Yes, you're dead Naomi’
She looked around fervently, nervously. So this is what it is like, she thought, where will I go next, she asked herself.
The Angel allowed Naomi to calm herself, it had been a big shock, most people knew exactly where they were, they faced the consequences of their actions and just got on with it, they accepted their fate. Naomi was in a halfway situation; the Angel had to decide whether she was right for ‘Renewal’ or right for the other place. The Angel would find out the truth, it was a situation he had to deal with daily; there were two people to consider here, no wait, three. Actually it was four. Plus the countless others that would suffer around them, family, friends, colleagues…the list goes on and on.

‘Naomi lets talk a little more about you and Jacob. You love him don’t you?’ asked Angel John.
‘Yes, yes I do with all my heart, but I’ve ruined everything, I’ll never forgive myself, I just wish I could turn back the clock?’
Angel John smiled, it was what he was waiting for, he was pleased that she had the courage to talk about the problem so early, sometimes it took days, and they were patient, in most cases there was a happy ending, he started to feel optimistic about Naomi…and Jacob.
‘So do you feel able now to tell me everything my dear?’
Naomi sat down on the chair again and composed herself, she wanted to talk, she would feel better, she thought.
‘I saw him’ she began.
‘Yes, go on’
‘I saw him talking to this, this woman’
‘I see’
John listened and gave Naomi the time to talk as much as she needed. He knew exactly what had happened, he always did, the facts were not at issue, it was the motives, the emotions and whether there were other people involved that would help him make the right decision.
‘They were together, holding hands, they hugged each other, and she, she kissed him’
‘And you thought what?’ asked John the Angel.
‘They’re having an affair, he’s cheating on me’
‘Are you sure Naomi? did you hear what they were talking about?’
‘Well  err no’
‘So why are you so sure that the man who loves you is cheating on you, you trust each other don’t you?’
‘Yes but…’
‘You’ve been in love since school days haven’t you?’
‘Yes we have we’re…’
‘And yesterday you were so sure that it was all over, that he had forsaken your love’
Naomi was sobbing and thought the Angel was just making her suffer.
‘Let me show you something’ said John.
A glass screen lowered down from the ceiling and stopped at the floor. It was like a TV or cinema screen. First it was all black. Then Angel John clapped his hands. The screen came to life and Naomi could see a picture of the mall. People were busy shopping; she looked more closely and saw that it was the mall she visited yesterday. She saw Jacob and that woman sitting at the same table, talking and eating, she was starting to feel uneasy again.
‘It’s Jacob’ she said, smiling and feeling anguish at the same time.
‘Yes Naomi, it’s the scene from yesterday. You couldn’t hear what they were saying, could you?’
‘Well listen now, listen very closely for me’
John raised his right hand and moved it in a slow circular motion to the right. There was sound, she could hear people talking and laughing and it was just like she was there, standing on the upper floor watching all over again. Naomi stood up and moved closer to the glass, she wished she could go to Jacob, she put her hands flat on the glass, hoping that he would see her.
John raised his and hand again this time with his palm upwards and the background noise slowly quietened and Jacob and the woman’s conversation could be heard. Naomi heard Jacob’s voice loud and clear, she listened to what they were saying.
She heard the whole conversation, it was not what she thought at all, he was trying to leave, she was holding onto him. It was different.
‘The woman is called Hannah, she has lost everything dear to her and more…’ John said.
‘She did?’
‘Yes, she is alone in this world, her parents died in a car crash; she works in the same office as Jacob. One month ago she had a miscarriage, She lost her baby and felt suicidal. Two weeks ago her husband left her for another woman. She thought her life was over. Jacob has been helping her, he was the only person who took the time to listen to her’
‘He was?’
‘Yes Naomi, you see your husband did something else too’
‘What, what did he do’
‘The day before yesterday Hannah felt so low, so useless, so alone, she was very close to killing herself and had every intention to. She went to the top of the building and was standing on a ledge, she thought her life was at an end and she was just about to throw herself off. Your husband stayed with her and talked to her. He saved her life. Your husband is a hero’ said John.
‘He did, he is?’
‘Yes, he persuaded her to come down and told her how lucky she was to have life. He made her realise that she had everything to live for and she could start again and one day she would have children’
‘The text, she text him, I saw it’ said Naomi.
‘Jacob was worried about her, you heard him say she could text him when she felt depressed again. He was determined to keep her alive’
Naomi sat deep in thought, she had it all wrong, she could see that now, she had jumped to the wrong conclusion.
‘So Naomi do you understand now?’
‘Yes, yes I do, I have been so stupid, someone has lost their life through my insane jealousy’ she said.
‘Two people’ said John.
‘Yes, when Hannah heard about Jacob yesterday evening it was too much for her, she went up to the top of the building again and this time she did it, she jumped. She died on the way to hospital’
‘No, no, no it’s all my fault, please God forgive me…. please forgive me’
That was the second important thing that John was hoping she would say. She never meant to do it, he was sure, she was blinded by confusion, if she had just talked to Jacob and believed in him, it would all have been resolved without any bloodshed, two people would still be alive today. No, three people.
She sobbed uncontrollably and John walked over to her and put his hand on her shoulder. 
‘Will I ever be forgiven John?’ she asked.
‘You already have my dear, that is why you are here, we can help you’
‘But how, Jacob is dead. Hannah is dead. But wait, wait a minute, you said four, four people have been affected didn’t you’
‘Yes, you remembered.’ John began. ‘Jacob is waiting, Hannah is waiting and you yourself are waiting for our decision, and there’s one more’ he said.
Naomi was hanging on his every word, wondering just who it could be. She had no idea.
‘Tell me John, who else?’
‘You are pregnant Naomi, you and Jacob were going to have a child, a boy’
Naomi couldn’t speak, she sat there, her hands went to her belly, she was so happy at the news, they had wanted a baby for so long and now she had ruined everything.

Angel John left her to think about the news and he was now sure, very sure that he knew what to do. He disappeared into the mist and spoke to someone to ask for guidance. He spoke to Angel Luke who was conducting his own Renewal discussion with a young couple who had lost their life in a car accident. The man had been speeding to the hospital with his wife who was just about to give birth when he crashed into another car and the driver of the other car had died also. Luke was struggling with the couple; it was the second day of discussions.
John spoke with Luke and he agreed whole-heartedly with John about his decision for Naomi and Jacob. John returned to see Naomi and told her that he was sorry to have kept her waiting.
‘Naomi, your Renewal has been approved.’
‘It has, what does it mean John?’
‘When I clap my hands you will return and so will Jacob, neither of you will remember anything about what has happened to you both, you wont remember me or the discussion and you will both live a long and happy life together’
‘And Hannah?’
‘Yes, she too will be Renewed and she will not remember anything, she will begin a new life’ 
‘How can I ever thank you John, I don’t know what to say’
John clapped his hands and she was gone.

The Renewal.

‘What are we doing here?’ asked Naomi.
They had fallen asleep on the bed; she could hear the TV blaring away in the kitchen across the hall.
‘We must have dozed off’ said Jacob, yawning.
Jacob kissed Naomi on the cheek and told her how much he loved her. They were lying on the bed.
‘I love you too buttercup, it’s nice lying here with you darling but I must finish dinner.’
Jacob was the first to stand up and held his hands out to Naomi to pull her up. She raised herself and fell into his arms.  He squeezed her tightly.
‘Hey be careful, you don’t want to….’ She stopped; she had forgotten to tell Jacob the good news when he had come home.
‘What darling why can’t I squeeze the woman I love?’
‘Yes darling’
‘I did a test today’
‘Did you dear what kind of test?’ and then he realised what she meant. ‘You're not, oh darling are you?’
‘Yes, I am, we’re going to have a baby’
They were deliriously happy; they had waited for this moment for so long.
‘We must celebrate, we’re going to have a son!” said Jacob.
‘How do you know it will be a boy Jacob?’
‘It has to be I can feel it. What shall we name him?’
Naomi already knew exactly what she should call their new son. 
‘We will call him...JOHN’ she said.

The Flower Hunter

copyright © gregstensonstories 2011

n the spring of 1875, Professor John Holloway, a renowned Botanist, set sail for Borneo in the southern oceans; his quest was to discover rare orchids and bring them back to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, London. He had already made several successful voyages and his work was well known throughout the Horticultural society of the late 1800’s. This trip however was to be his last before his marriage to his beloved fiancé, Miss Miranda Grant, herself a well known painter in high society.

Miss Grant lived in the London suburb of Kensington. She would often take a walk in the mornings through Hyde Park in the company of her friends and afterwards they would take a stroll to Notting Hill or nearby Knightsbridge to take lunch. In the afternoons Miss Grant would pursue her life’s work and pleasure, she would paint scenes from one of the beautifully tendered and manicured flower gardens. It was on one of her daily visits to the park to paint, that she first saw Professor John Holloway. However she had no idea whom he was and didn’t notice the gentleman at all until he had walked on by.

One bright July afternoon in the summer of 1873, she was at her easel painting by a flower garden. She was sat on her stool, hidden by the vastness of her dress, a long flowing printed dress that carpeted the area around her. She wore a straw boater on her head with red ribbon trimming around the brim. Her arm was raised, she was painting the delicate details of a flowers onto the canvas. She was looking constantly back and forth between the flowers that danced in the gentle breeze, and the easel.

The Professor, who was in the park taking a midday stroll between Kensington Gore and Bayswater, walked by the same flower garden, he stopped briefly to inspect and admire the flowers. He only noticed Miss Grant at her easel after some moments. He felt that he was inadvertently disturbing her concentration, he saw that she had lowered her arm, waiting for him to walk on although she kept her attention of the canvas. He apologised, bowing as he did so, he raised his hat momentarily, and upon seeing Miss Grant more clearly saw that she was a rather beautiful, elegant lady.
“Professor Holloway, Good day My Lady, please forgive my intrusion.”
She was deep in concentration and hadn’t really noticed him at all, he decided to continue with his walk. It wasn’t polite to address an unaccompanied lady without first being formally introduced. Perhaps he would never see her again, he thought. After a few moments Miss Grant looked up from the canvas and realised that the person who had ‘disturbed’ her was a gentleman, tall and striking, very well dressed. She watched as he strode away in the direction of Bayswater, his stick tapping the ground with every step. Miss Grant recalled his voice only later, very kind she thought, and his words seemed to hang in the air so she listened to them again and again, wishing that she had seen his face.

Some weeks passed by and The Royal Botanical Society at Kew Gardens were holding a series of lectures on rare and exotic flowers. It was September now with periods  of sunshine and rain and the flowers were resplendent in their borders, their subtle frangrances were floating in the air, it was one of the loveliest times of the year, thought Miss Grant. She was hurrying to the auditorium, not wanting to miss the first lecture. Miss Grant visited the gardens regularly to admire and make paintings of the rare and beautiful flowers that had been collected and brought from all around the world.

As she entered the lecture hall she could hear the murmur of the assembled audience, waiting anxiously for the talks to begin. The speakers platform was slowly filling up with the distinguished and knowledgeable guests and the murmur began to subside. As the main speaker approached the front of the platform the audience fell silent, all that could be heard were a few coughs here and there which tailed off as the first Gentleman took to the rostrum. Miss Grant was seated right in the middle of the front row, she wouldn’t usually have sat in such a prominent position however as she was a little late it was the only place that she found vacant. She was close to the stage and sat excited with anticipation waiting for the lecture to commence. A tall man approached the centre of the stage and tapped the rostrum with his walking stick which drew everyone’s attention. He welcomed everyone and introduced himself and his colleagues to the assembled audience and he began to conduct the first talk. It was to be an account of his most recent trip to the Far East and about his discoveries of flora and fauna that he had brought back to Kew Gardens.

After he had been speaking for a few moments Miss Grant thought that there was something about the man’s voice that was strangely familiar, she didn’t recognize his face but she would never forget the voice He was handsome she thought, very handsome but what was it about the voice, where had she heard it before.
Then it came to her, it was at the park on that sunny July afternoon whilst she was painting that she had heard it before. She was quite sure and a feeling of nervous excitement came upon her. She was listening to him speak but not hearing what he was saying. She was finding it difficult to keep her mind on the lecture, it was indeed being conducted by the man whos voice she had heard so briefly in the park, it was Professor John Holloway.

His face was a study of concentration, he was recounting his recent voyage and the expedition to the forests of Borneo. He was reading from his notes and occasionally raised his head to look out into the gathering as he spoke. He was almost at the end of his talk when his eyes fell upon Miss Grant sitting in the front row, looking as beautiful as the day he first saw her. He would never forget the elegance and radiance he saw as he took his walk through Hyde Park that July day. He hesitated, just for a moment, his eyes lingering on her face, he gave a little cough and resumed his talk. Miranda realised that he had noticed her and her heart began to flutter. What was this feeling, who was this gentleman, this intriguing man, so striking and so knowledgeable about flowers, her life’s love, she asked herself. This second chance meeting would change her life completely, she would fall in love with the Professor and he with her.

Professor Holloway concluded his talk and sat down to warm and enthusiastic applause, the audience were showing their appreciation for the detailed account of his expedition and marveled at the new plants and flowers that he and his team had brought back from their voyage. After the lectures, the plants and flowers were put on display and the visitors were allowed to circulate around the display tables and to examine the variety of species. They marvelled at the magnificent array of exotic flowers that had never been seen before on these shores. Miss Grant joined the throng of observers studying each of the exhibits displayed on the tables around the hall.

Professor Robert Stapleford, a colleague of John Holloway, noticed that he appeared to be following Miss Grant closley as she moved amongst the tables of exhibits. He leaned across to him and said
“You must meet her.”
“Who?” asked Holloway.
“Miss Grant” said Stapleford.
“Her name is Miss Grant, You know her?” Holloway said with astonishment.
“Yes, Miranda Grant, she is very well known her for her art and studies of flowers. You’ve been away so much you’re out of touch my boy.” Stapleford told him.
“Would you really introduce me to her?” said Holloway.
Without a further moment lost Stapleford caught Miss Grant’s attention and asked her over. Holloway suddenly became quite nervous. He had endured rough seas, stifling jungles and spear throwing natives, but this was far more daunting, he tried to compose himself , he straightened his necktie and stood tall.

“Miss Grant, may I have the pleasure of introducing you to Professor John Holloway. I am sure he will be able to answer any questions that you may have about his discoveries. Professor Holloway, may I introduce to you the lovely Miss Miranda Grant, a  renowned artist and friend of Kew Gardens”

Miss Grant, stood motionless and stared at Holloway, she had a smile on her face and was sure that if she tried to speak no words would come out. Holloway, ever the gentlemen, cocked his head forward, and told her he was honoured to make her acquaintence. He reached down and took Miss Grant’s gloved hand that she had offered towards him. This was the polite way in society to make a Lady’s acquaintance. Professor Holloway kissed the back of her gloved hand, dwelling for a second, a little longer than was usual. Miranda raised her other hand and placed it on her chest as if to express a little surprise at just how much attention he was paying to her. The rest of the room may well have been empty, they only had eyes for each other. They had both waited for this moment since their first meeting in the park, some weeks previous.

They talked about the Professor’s expedition and about Miss Grant’s love of flowers and art. The Professor Holloway told Miss Grant about his forthcoming trip to the Far East which was planned for the spring of 1875. They sat down together at the side of the hall so engrossed with each other that an hour passed by and they hadnt noticed that the hall was emptying, they were one of the last to leave. Before they departed Professor Holloway invited Miss Grant to a ball the following evening to mark the end of the Summer lectures. Miss Grant gladly accepted. It was the start of a friendship that soon lead to courtship. They became engaged in December 1874.

During their courtship they would spend day after day in each other’s company, Miss Grant would make paintings in Kew Gardens in the mornings and the Professor would be close by, writing in his study in the main buildings. They would meet for lunch and then in the evenings they would have dinner together or visit the theatre. They were inseperable and were seen at most of the society events throughout the Autumn season in London. By Victorian standards theirs was a whirlwind romance, brought together by chance through their love of flowers and nature. Their love for one another grew and grew and their engagement was the highlight of the season at Christmas 1874, the event was marked by a dinner and dance held in the Grosvenor Hotel on Park Lane. The lane that night was busy with horse drawn carriages and hansom cabs. The event was announced in the Tatler, and the Times.

During the winter of 1875 Miranda and Professor Holloway were blissfully happy, attending Balls and Dinners, spending their days punting on the river, walking through the park and working side by side in Kew Gardens. In the long winter evenings they would make plans for their forthcoming marriage. The wedding ceremony would however have to wait until the end of the year.

The Professor had one last trip to Borneo planned, the expedition would have a duration of at least six months. He had a unique quest in mind.

The day finally arrived for the Professor’s departure, he would set sail from Portsmouth aboard a merchant ship bound for the south seas. The Professor and his team planned meticulously for the long sea voyage and the expedition into the depths of the jungles of Borneo. The trip wasn’t without a good deal of risk and this played on Miranda’s mind as she saw him off on the quayside at Portsmouth. Their parting was a tearful one with kisses and promises that they would write to each other. Miranda longed to go with him, to be by his side, she would love to be there when he discovers previously unseen exotic flowers in their natural habitat. But she knew it was not possible, she would wait patiently, and continue with her work, sure that within a few months he would return and they would be married.

  The sea voyage was long and arduous, once per week the Professor would write to his fiancé,she would not get the letters for perhaps many months, they would be left in some foreign port awaiting a ship that would be sailing to England. They too would have a hazardous journey of their own back to Miss Grant.

In September the ship arrived safely at its destination in Indonesia. The expedition was underway in Borneo and they had made their way deeper and deeper into the jungle, deeper than they had gone before, discovering tribes and peoples not yet seen by any white man. Tribal languages and ways of life so fascinating to Holloway, yet these were the people that would assist him track down the flowers, the orchids that flowered in the damp rainy autumn.

One day in the deepest jungle, in 
the region of Mount Kinabalu, the team set out as they had done each day, guided by the tribesman. The local people were invaluable to Holloway. It was late afternoon and just before they were about to head back to the settlement, Holloway stopped in his tracks, he commanded everyone to stop, for he could not believe his eyes, it took his breath away, he took out his handkerchief, mopped his brow, and gingerly paced the last few steps towards it, and there nestling in the foliage between the trees, for perhaps the very first time that a white man had set eyes on such a treasure, was a Red Orchid, Renanthera Moluscara. The mythical orchid was only talked about around dinner tables. Some said that it did not exist, others had heard claims and stories from sailors coming back from the orient. It was the most beautiful flower he had ever seen, the whole team looked on in amazement.

The Professor set about sketching the habitat and preparing to take some samples. He would have to preserve it carefully and transport it back through the jungle, across the oceans and back to Kew Gardens, where he could examine, archive and cultivate the species.
He felt that it was a great responsibility and an enormous honour to be able to bring the flower back to England for the rest of the world to see.

The Professor could now return, safe in the knowledge that his expedition was a success. He would endure the voyage knowing that he would also once again be with Miranda. He had missed her greatly, she had been on his mind constantly, and he knew that she, maybe moreso than himself, would be thrilled to see the Red orchid. He would dedicate it to her.
On the journey back across the oceans he wrote and documented the expedition meticulously. The notes were prefaced with a dedication to Miranda.

On the long and arduous passage Holloway had begun to cough, it started in the jungle, he thought nothing of it at the time and continued on with his work. After the heat of the tropics the fresh trade winds on the journey home would surely restore his health, but the coughing worsened. After many weeks as the ship approached European waters, he health had worsened still. His work was happily complete, he was looking forward to the arrival in Portsmouth and seeing Miranda. She had kept herself busy and tried not to think of John so far away from her, thousands of miles from her. She knew that he would return, she busied herself with their marriage plans and her art..and would wait patiently for news from the Navy when the ship was due to arrive. It must be any day now, she thought.

The ship was but a few hundred miles away from Portsmouth, the trip had been a resounding success, they would arrive back sometime the next day, tides prevailing. Professor Holloway promised Miranda that he would be on deck as they entered the harbour. His condition became grave, it was now feared that he had developed consumption and that he might not last the night, the ship’s Doctor had done all that he could to try and ensure Holloway made it back to port. The rest and care at home in England was his best hope for survival, the Doctor thought.

Miranda received news of the ship’s imminent arrival and was escorted to Portsmouth to arrive in good time. She was at the quayside hotel looking out to sea, straining her eyes for the first glimpse of the ship that would bring her betrothed home to her.

At exactly 1.30 pm on Wednesday the 30th of  November 1875, the Professor’s ship came into view, at exactly 1.35 pm Professor Holloway died. He passed away as he was looking out of the hatch by his bedside, he could see his beloved England, the shores where he belonged, where his love Miranda would be waiting for him. His head resting on a pillow, and a tear could be seen in the corner of his eye. Professor Holloway took his last breath.

The ship sailed quietly and solemnly the remainder of the few miles towards Portsmouth. The crew and colleagues were subdued and saddened at the Professor’s passing. He had succeeded in his monumental and courageous quest, but it had cost him his life.

Miranda, upon sighting the ship had hurried excitedly to the dockside, she was nervous beyond belief, the long months had almost been too much for her to endure. She would once more see the man that she loved, hear the voice that had captured her heart.
As the ship drew up alongside the quay, Miranda strained her neck eager to see him, why was he not on deck, he should be there to greet her, he said. She was sure that any minute he would appear from below and wave to her. She waited, and waited.

The first person she saw was the Captain, followed by the Professor’s colleagues, whom she recognized. They stepped on to shore, with solemn looks on their faces. Why weren’t they happy, where was he, where was her love?. Her heart was in her mouth, she was still looking at the ship, at all of the doors and windows but she saw no one. There was no sign of Professor Holloway.

The Captain approached Miranda, he stood to attention before her, and took off his cap. He paused as he raised his head, he was carrying a small wooden box. Miranda was bewildered, she looked at him fervently. Then he addressed her.

“Miss Grant….I am afraid that I am the bearer of some very sad news” He paused for a few moments to summon up the courage to continue. “I am afraid it is my duty to tell you that Mr. Holloway, Professor John Holloway sadly passed away just a few hours ago.”

Miranda slumped, her hands raising to cover her face, trying to take in just what the captain had said. Had she heard him correctly? No, it must be a mistake, it can’t be true, She thought. She listened as he spoke further, in total shock and disbelief.
“Miss Grant, on behalf of the crew and myself we are sorry to bring you this bad news, we offer you our sincere condolences. He left you this box and this note, and expressly instructed me that should anything happen to him, I was to make sure you got this personally. He said you were the person that deserved to see it first.”

Miranda reached forward to receive the box from the Captain. Her hands were trembling so violently that she could hardly hold it. She held her breath and looked down at the box. It was a beautiful hardwood box, with an engraved silver plaque on its lid.

The engraving read..

‘To my beloved Miranda.
This is dedicated to you,
one whose beauty rivals the most beautiful flower
I have ever seen,
please take good care of it my darling,
 I will love you eternally.
Yours, John’

Miranda opened the box very slowly and carefully, almost too nervous to look inside. There, laying upon a black velvet bed, was the most exquisite flower she had ever seen….A Red Orchid.


TRUE or FALSE - It's a killer.

copyright © gregstensonstories 2011

Every month, and ever since either of them could remember, John would tell a long rambling story to his two best friends, Henry and Jack. He would hold them enthralled and there was always a question at the end of the story. After John had finished they would have to guess whether the story was ‘True or False’.
Usually the stories would be told whilst they were on a Sunday walk or on the way home after the gym or late at night after returning from the pub. At Christmas or birthdays there’d be a special story, a seasonal story, it would have an extra twist.
They were all life long friends since primary school and were never far apart from each other. They were born in the same street, went to the same schools, played in the same football teams and shared the same apartment at University.

Henry’s favourite story was the chilling tale of ‘The Twin Sisters’ who were orphaned at birth.
Their mother had never known who the father was and the labour had been very difficult, and unfortunately she died shortly afterwards. The twins were taken in and raised by a wicked Aunt. They were kept in the house from the moment they were brought home. They never attended any school or nursery. The Aunt was so strict they were never allowed out to play. They had no friends, and there was no record of them at all, not even a birth certificate. They had never been seen by a Doctor - technically they didn’t exist.
As the twins got older, and the Aunt more demanding, they were required to do all the cooking, all the cleaning and to attend to their Aunt’s every need and whim. If they didn’t please her, they would be beaten and locked in their rooms without food, sometimes for days on end. They could never escape as the windows and doors were locked and bolted.
One of the twins was slightly taller, a little stronger and she became the dominant one, the one with all of the ideas. Now teenagers, she would lead the other in their spiteful pranks that they played on their Aunt from time to time. They would run away laughing and mocking when they were found out. The Aunt’s health was faltering, she needed a walking stick to get around and the days were gone when she could chase them and spank them. The dominant twin would always manage to get her sister to take the blame, the ‘guilty’ one would then be locked up and extra helpings of ice cream and biscuits would go the dominant one.
“I wish she was dead,” said the shorter.
“I’ll tell,” said the taller.
Birthdays were special days for the twins. The Aunt would allow them to dress up, and to eat whatever they liked for that one day of the year. As they grew older they were allowed to cook and bake whatever they wished, they would take it in turns each birthday.
On their eighteenth birthday it was the shorter twin who had the honour of choosing their birthday meal, she could choose whatever she wanted, whichever desert she fancied. The taller had to prepare and do all the cooking.
The night before the big day they lay awake long into the night too excited to sleep. They would finally be reaching adulthood, the treats, the presents and the birthday meal that the taller one would have to cook. She asked her sister to choose whatever she wanted; whatever was her wildest dream, for it would never come again. This birthday marked the end of their childhood and they would start a new life. She thought long and hard as she watched the stars in the sky through the skylight window above her bed. She closed her eyes and clasped her hands together praying that her wish would come true.
“What is it, what is it” asked the taller.
“You know exactly what I wish for my sister…exactly”
She did know and they blew goodnight kisses to one another before they settled down to sleep.
Their birthday arrived and they enjoyed their first day as adults and wondered just what it would be like to be free, to meet other people and to perhaps one day marry. The taller began to prepare her sister’s special birthday meal, she spent hours in the kitchen and worked hard to make sure it was exactly to her sister’s satisfaction.  Throughout the afternoon, every hour or so the shorter would knock on the kitchen door, curious what the taller was cooking, she couldn’t wait but she was sure her sister would surprise her and delight her. The shorter thought the house was quieter than normal, she hadn’t seen the Aunt all morning, her bedroom door was closed so she thought she too would surprise her later, she knew she would be at the party, she’d never missed a single one in all the eighteen years.

The grandfather clock in the hall chimed five o’clock, the smells emanating from the kitchen had been driving the shorter crazy so when the taller shouted ‘Dinner is ready!’ she was excited beyond belief.  The dining room doors sprung open. The dining table was set so elegantly, she had lit candles and poured wine, it was fit for a Queen, the shorter thought.
The taller welcomed her to the table and they both sat down across from one another as usual. They said grace and wished each other a happy birthday and they began to eat.
First they had soup, a delicious cream of celery broth. They drank some wine, a red wine that told the shorter they would be having meat. And then to the main course. The taller lifted the gleaming chrome covers from the serving platters and told the shorter to ‘tuck in.’ ‘It’s what you’ve always wanted’, she said. The shorter wasted no time at all and filled her plate with potatoes, vegetables and of course the meat. They both began to eat heartily and drank more wine. It was the best birthday meal they could ever remember. The shorter realised someone was missing. It had been quiet all day and again now, the high-backed carver chair at the end of the table was empty.
‘Where is Aunty?’ asked the shorter.
‘She’s here’ said the taller.
‘But I haven’t seen her all day, she has never missed our birthday, not once’ said the shorter.
‘And she hasn’t missed this one either’ said the taller.
‘But she isn’t here’
‘Oh yes she is…you’re eating her’ said the taller.

Whilst listening to the story Henry and Jack hadn’t asked a question, on hearing the end they had made retching noises thinking about how the Aunt had ended up on the dinner table.

‘So?’ asked John, ‘Is it True or false?’
They talked between them, still thinking how disgusting the story was but they both came to the same answer.
‘True’ they said in unison, and as usual John would always make them wait for the answer.
‘Yes, it’s True, they ate their Aunt and the next day escaped from the house and lived a long and happy life together.

Jack’s favourite story was ‘The Boy with No Heart’.

Long ago, in fact right back in the time of Dickens, John began. There was an orphan boy who was different from all the other boys and girls. In fact there was no other child like him in the whole world. His life started the same as the other children, he grew up and went to school and played games and did everything normally. No one ever suspected that he was different in any way.
He grew older and was made to work just as the other orphans were. One day he would be sweeping chimneys, the next he’d be fetching and cleaning and he grew to be a strong, healthy young man. His life was unremarkable and eventually the time came for him to be put into ‘service’ with a family in the country.
The years passed and he did his duty, he was considered to be the hardest working, the most loyal out of all the household’s servants. By the age of thirty the Master of the house became a little curious as to why the young man, who had worked with them for twelve years now, had never been ill, and had never missed a day’s work in his life.
Twenty more long years went by and the Master’s curiosity grew more and more for the servant was now fifty and had not changed since the day he was thirty. He worked as hard if not harder then ever, he still had never been ill, not for even a day and he seemed happy in his work and sought no comforts or relationships. It was the fact that he had remained single and despite several of the younger women in the house falling for his good looks and charms, he had shunned them, seemingly oblivious to their advances.
One day the mystery started to unravel. He fell down the long flight of stairs from the first floor to the ground and it appeared that he had broken his leg. The Doctor was called and said that he should go to the local hospital to be x-rayed and for the leg to be put in plaster.
This was highly unusual for the man, who had never even so much as been inside a Doctor’s surgery. He was kept in for observations ‘as a precaution’ they said, just until the evening when he would be allowed home. Later that day he was sat up, as cheerful as ever waiting for the Doctor to send him home. The Doctor arrived and purely as a matter of routine checked him over. The ward was full of nurses and the Master and Mistress, who had both grown very fond of him, were there to collect him.
The Doctor examined his leg; he checked the plaster cast and then took his stethoscope from around his neck and asked the man to open his pyjama top. He placed the stethoscope on his chest and asked him to cough. Then to cough again, and then to cough once more. The Doctor stood back; he looked very puzzled, and scratched his head. Everyone around seemed puzzled too, whatever was the matter, they thought. The Doctor placed the stethoscope on the man’s chest one last time and then had to sit down. By now the Master was bemused and spoke.
‘Whatever is the problem Doctor, he’s well enough surely?’
‘Yes, yes Sir, he is, that’s just it, he seemed perfectly well in every way, except…’
‘What is it Doctor pray tell?’
The Doctor paused; it was as if the next few words were the most difficult words that he would ever say.
‘He has no heart !!!’ said the Doctor, in complete bewilderment.

There was shock and amazement throughout the ward. The man lay there without a care and didn’t seem to worry one little bit. In fact he knew it himself, he’d always known it, he just never thought it was strange. He thought everyone was the same as him.
The man was released and returned to work. For some days he was fussed and paid attention to but eventually everyone grew used to the fact that he was different. He looked the same as everyone else, apart from the fact that he never seemed to feel ‘love’ as everyone else did.
The years passed, the Master died, and his son became the new Master of the house. The century turned and the man remained the same, he still looked only thirty years old.
The man never married, he never had children and he still never had a day’s sickness in his life.
He is still alive today, said John.
He is 187 years old. The only thing noticeable about him was that he walked with a slight limp from the fateful day that he broke his leg all those years ago.
He will never die, he will never love, he cannot feel love. For he is the Boy with No Heart. 

Henry and Jack had listened, riveted to the story, and once more John asked the old, old question.
‘Is it True or false?’
Jack was the first to answer. ‘False’ he said confidently.
“True’ said Henry.
Jack remembers John pacing around, keeping them waiting longer than usual until he put them out of their misery.
‘False’ said John. And they all began to laugh.

It was Christmas and Henry and Jack wondered what special seasonal story John would have for them this year. Some years he would tell it on Christmas day, after the dinner, some years he left it as late as New Years Eve.
They had decided to spend Christmas together so they drove down to London and planned to stay in a hotel on Park Lane. They heard an announcement on the car radio that tonight’s Christmas Eve Lottery draw would be a triple roll over worth 20 million pounds.
‘We must get a ticket’ said Jack.
“Yes, we can’t let it pass by, I mean for just a few quid we could end up multi-millionaires, all of us’ said Henry.
They all agreed as soon as they had settled into the hotel room they would buy three tickets, one each.
‘No, why don’t we buy just one ticket and take three lines, that way if one of us wins, we will share it, just like we have with everything together all these years’ said Jack.
Once again they all agreed and they decided it should be John who buys the ticket. It was settled, they would meet in the bar later that evening to decide what they would all do when they were millionaires in the morning. They all laughed and joked and went to their rooms.
A little later John left the hotel and bought the ticket with the numbers they had written down for him to buy, he picked up an Evening Standard and was interested in one particular article that caught his eye.
John returned to the hotel bar just as the others were coming out of the lift. They drank and drank enjoying the Christmas atmosphere; they ate in the dining room and laughed all the way through the meal. Jack and Henry were sat side by side opposite John who could just see the TV monitor across at the bar. He couldn’t hear the sound but saw the news highlights and noted the winning numbers in the special Christmas Eve Lottery Draw.
John surprised Jack and Henry and told them he had a story to ‘end all stories’ for them. They sat open mouthed; they weren’t expecting it till later, John always kept them waiting.
They had just finished the meal and they were having a brandy and John began the story. The laughter subsided; Jack and Henry sat in anticipation, wondering what could possibly be the story to end all stories.
The story is about three friends. Three life long friends, he began. Just like us, said Jack. Yes, said John.
These friends had trusted each other, looked out for each other and shared just about everything with one another. Until, John said, one day something happened to change everything. Henry and Jack sat mesmerised as usual.
The older and wiser of the friends had suddenly become ambitious, so greedy and a set of circumstances presented itself and the man could not resist the temptation to take advantage. Although he gave it great thought, he put his evil plan into effect.  Two things happened to him, said John; he learnt something interesting, something he thought he would never contemplate, not before that day.
Henry and Jack looked at each other and thought the similarity between them and the friends in the story had just ended. That doesn’t sound like us anymore, said Jack. John continued with the story.
The older man had read an article about a natural poison; a mixture of herbs and common substances that, when ground together, and mixed into a drink or a meal, would render death within five minutes and the poison would be totally untraceable afterwards. Death would be almost instantaneous. He had no idea that such a thing existed and wondered why it had been published for all to see.
The second amazing thing was that the friends, through great luck and fortune, became wealthy, wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. The man began to have evil thoughts, John said, they were the best of friends, they had shared whatever good fortune had come their way until this time, but now he wanted it all, he saw a way to be rich, richer than he could ever have imagined. He plotted to kill his friends, greed and malevolence took over every fibre of his being. He collected the herbs and ingredients and prepared the secret poison and waited until the time was right, he then slipped the potion into their drink in the knowledge that they would soon be dead and he would have their riches and wealth all to himself. It seemed that Satan himself had possessed him.
The restaurant and bar was about to close for the evening, it was midnight and John said that they should go up to his room to have a last drink before going to bed. They complained that they wanted to hear the rest of the story; surely it wouldn’t take long, said Henry. No, said John, but we can finish it upstairs over a drink. They all agreed and took the lift up to John’s room.
Once they were settled, John looked in the mini bar and fixed them some drinks. Jack wanted beer and Henry wanted whisky.
‘Come on John finish the story’ said Jack.
‘Yes, finish it John’ said Henry.
John said okay and handed them their drinks. They sat back eagerly waiting and sipped at their drinks. John continued.
Well the greedy man got his wish, the plan worked and the terrible, demonic man sat there as his friends drank the potion. He waited callously for the fatal moment.
‘By the way boys, I didn’t tell you did I’
‘What?’ said Jack.
  ‘We won the lottery tonight, twenty million pounds, lets drink to celebrate, come on bottoms up, I’ll fix us another.
Jack and Henry couldn’t believe their ears, they jumped up laughing and cheering, we’re rich, we’re rich, they shouted, hugging each other and dancing around the room. John was shouting and cheering even more than them and sat back down just dreaming what he would do with all the money.
After three or four minutes they sat down, exhausted from all the celebrations, feeling the effects of the drinking that evening. Then they remembered about the story.
‘What, what happened John’ they said almost together.
They were so impatient they asked John for the first time ever, breaking the old habit where John would ask them if the story was True or False.
“Is it ‘True or False’ John’ asked Jack, Henry chipped in also.
At that very moment, Jack dropped his glass, his hands flew to his throat, it felt like it was on fire. The fire spread to his chest and stomach. He couldn’t breathe, the pain was debilitating, he fell to the floor in agony.
Henry watched in horror but then he too dropped his drink, his mouth open, he couldn’t speak, he too couldn’t breathe, he fell down next to Jack, writhing around on the floor.
John watched them both, dying a painful death on the floor, without expression or concern, he sat there motionless, and never moved a muscle to help them. Then he told them before it was too late…
‘True boys…it was True’


Part 1 - Elephant’s Bridge.

copyright © gregstensonstories 2011

Thursday 11am 9th March.
      Adam heard a ringing. It took him a few seconds but he slowly woke up from a deep sleep. He swam to the side of the bed and grabbed his mobile phone. It was 11am. He had been out in London the night before and wasn’t expecting a call, but as soon as he heard whose voice it was, he knew exactly what was coming next.
It was Jacques Benoit from Medicins Sans Frontieres, in his gravelly French voice he blurted out instructions to Adam. Jacques always spoke in a hurry, with urgent purpose, and had no idea that Adam was only half awake.
And half sober.
      “Wait, wait, wait Jacques, slow down, I’m still asleep, call me back man!”
That didn’t wash with Jacques, he knew Adam well, and he kept repeating his instructions until Adam had taken in the details. All that Adam got in his semi-consciousness was ‘9 pm  - Thursday - Heathrow - South Africa – Kalahari.’ and the words didn’t sink in for some time, but when they did…
      “WHAT…THURSDAY?” Adam sat bolt upright in bed  ‘But Jacques Thursday?…that’s t-o-d-a-y!”
Adam was now painfully awake, he had a splitting headache, but he was awake. He shouted back at Jacques in that hopeless way, you know perfectly well what you had heard but somehow by shouting and repeating the words, the message will change and not be true after all - but it was.
He had just 10 hours to get packed and get to Heathrow.

This was not an unusual situation for DrAdam Walker, 44 years old, a veteran of countless missions to all corners of the world where he would give selflessly of his time and energy, with disregard for his own health, to help others in need, wherever they might be. 

Adam could be mistaken for a much younger man, tallish with blond but graying hair, slim and physically fit, blue eyes and a lived in face. He was the kind of guy who listened to people’s problems and the warmth and compassion showed in his eyes, the smile almost etched into his face.

Adam always kept a travel bag packed and ready, force of habit.  He sank back on the bed and was getting that usual feeling of apprehension and exhilaration that came with not knowing just what circumstances lay before him. He wouldn’t though have it any other way. He would be on the 9 pm plane to Johannesburg, ready for action, like a soldier flying into a war zone.

In the stifling midday heat, in a makeshift medical centre 50 miles from the Madikwe Game Reserve, Dr. Kalahari was on the wards making her second tour of the day checking the recent arrivals who were lying motionless on their beds, stricken down with a virus; an unknown virus, for some it had proved to be fatal, without care and medication it could be for all of them.
Until the virus had been identified and a vaccine found, the centre was their only chance of survival. The sick and weak ones who had somehow made it to the centre were the lucky ones. Many hundreds had already died out in the bush areas to the north.
The doctor needed outside help desperately, she could bring the centre under control but she wanted to get into the bush and tackle the problem at its source.
  Dr. Sable Kalahari, a tall beautiful black African woman, born just outside Johannesburg was, at thirty, the youngest Medical Director in the region and had established the centre single-handed. Against much Government opposition. She had begged and fought for the funds necessary to set up the facility in the poorest part of the North West Region of her native South Africa.
Just two days before she had called her contacts at Medicins Sans Frontiers and she knew that if they could help, they would. Jacques Benoit called her the next day and although he had no idea at the time who he would send, he promised he would have an experienced Doctor out to assist her within 48 hours.
Sable was, first and foremost, a doctor, she devoted her entire life to the care of others, spending little time on herself. Single and somehow oblivious to her beauty, she was an attractive woman with shoulder length dark brown hair that she usually wore tied back.
She had just completed her round and as she was passing by the office when her secretary handed her a fax from MSF Geneva, it read…
Walker, A (Dr.)
Arriving Johannesburg,
Friday 10th March 2009 8 am.
Please arrange pick up from the airport.

Upon reading the fax Sable breathed a sigh of relief, help was on its way, and she knew that the arrival of Dr. Walker would mean that more patients, and people out in the bush, would have the chance of survival.
Sable’s prayers were coming true.

The sudden jolt of the plane’s wheels as they hit the tarmac upon landing woke Adam; he had slept for most of the eleven-hour flight from London. He looked out of the window and saw a familiar sight, he knew the skyline, he had been to Jo’burg many times. He had a soft spot for city and the country, and there was a special place in his heart for the real African people.
Adam travelled light, just a carry on backpack, and sped passed the baggage carousels and out into the arrivals hall. He was accustomed to arriving in different parts of the world and had forgotten who to look out for, but he caught sight of his name that had been hastily scribbled onto a piece of plain paper, held aloft by a tall gangly black man called Joseph in disheveled clothes. As soon as Joseph saw him walking towards him who he recognized as Dr. Walker, from a faxed photocopy of an old black and white photo sent by MSF, Joseph broke out into a big toothy smile. 
Airports were for getting into and out of fast, thought Adam; he had been in far too many. He strode after the tall guy who was already halfway out to the land rover before he had a chance to properly introduce himself.
The journey to Madikwe was around five hours driving time, initially on reasonable tarmac roads but they would soon it would be rough terrain. They would have plenty of time to talk, Adam had a thousand questions, Joseph did his best to answer them. Joseph told him as much as he knew about the virus outbreak, and that he was to meet Dr. Kalahari in the morning who would explain everything to him. Joseph omitted one tiny detail, that Dr. Sable Kalahari was a woman, a beautiful woman.
After a couple of hours they were in bush country, the road became more and more bumpy, the road became a track and after yet more miles the track disintegrated into a dusty path. They were so deep into the country that only a local man such as Joseph would know the way. Adam closed his eyes, he smelt the warm earthy air and felt the breeze on his face, the city was far behind them, all that could be seen now were grasslands, animals and trees. All along the horizon he could see trails of dust and by squinting he could make out the herds of wildebeests constantly moving, never arriving. He was happy to be back in Africa once more.
He had fallen asleep for the rest of the journey and only woke when Joseph opened the passenger door after arriving at the Medical Centre. It was six in the evening and almost dark. Adam could just see the shadowy outlines of the main buildings. Joseph had driven the land rover past the entrance to the centre and behind it to a cluster of small huts. Joseph led the way to the hut where Adam would be staying. He set down his bag on the bed showed him where the shower enclosure was out to the back and said he would bring Adam some soup and a drink for him. He thanked Joseph and told him he would grab a quick shower to wash off the dust of the journey. The shower was a small enclosure formed out of four sheets of corrugated steel held together in a framework of four by twos and nails with a makeshift door with rope for hinges. The water dropped down through gravity from overhead storage tanks and the water was warm, heated only by the warmth of the sun. Even though the pipe above his head had a simple spray head, it felt like heaven to be able to shower and cool off after the scorching heat of the day.
As he showered he sat on his bunk toweling himself dry. He wondered just how long he would be there in Madikwe. Each new place brought it’s own adventures, hard work and new relationships, some that last a lifetime.
In the morning he would find out.
Joseph returned with a big bowl of soup, some bread and a whisky. Adam was trying to decide which he needed first. He drank the whisky first and then the delicious soup of provisions and vegetables.
Joseph wished Adam a goodnight and told him that his brother Johnson would be on hand in the morning at eight a.m. with his breakfast and to show him to the centre.
The jetlag started to kick in and after the soup and bread he collapsed into his bunk and fell soundly asleep.

Friday 7.30am 11th March.
The hot sun was already streaming into the hut through the slatted window as Adam woke up; he stretched and threw on some shorts. He bathed and was then glad to see Johnson arrive with his breakfast of eggs, fruit, juice and coffee.

Dr. Kalahari was already hard at work, she was in her office studying reports of the previous days blood tests, she was deep in concentration and didn’t hear Johnson’s knock at her door. The door was ajar and he walked through, closely followed by Adam. They had been standing waiting for what seemed like a minute before she realized that someone was there. She caught sight of them out of the corner of her eye and jumped, she held the papers to her chest and looked up at both of them with a startled stare
‘I’m so sorry I didn’t hear you at all, forgive me.’ She said.
Sable had not really thought about whether A Walker would be a man or a woman. In those first few seconds she had studied his face, his physique and rugged good looks and noticed his kind smiling eyes. She was pleasantly surprised that it was a man. She liked his eyes.
   ‘This is Dr. Adam Walker mam, this is Dr. Sable Kalahari.’ said Johnson.
Adam stretched his hand forward to greet Sable and smiled at her.
‘It’s good to meet you, I hope I can be of help, I’ll do my best just tell me whatever you need to assist you.’ said Adam.
‘I’m so glad you're here Adam, it means so much to me that you would come out to help, I’m so happy.’
Sable asked him to take a seat and told Johnson to bring them some tea. She set about bringing Adam up to date with the details of the outbreak, the condition of the people and the treatment she had started.

This was to be the start of a friendship, they would become close, closer than either of them would have expected.

During tea Sable told Adam how the virus had presented and how she had tried to identify the strain so she could administer the appropriate medicines. She had tried several vaccines but without much success, she had at least stopped it becoming fatal provided it the vaccine was given within the first seventy-two hour period since the onset of symptoms. The people who had been strong enough to reach the centre were at least holding their own, the vaccine seemed to give them time for the body to fight the infection and then slowly start to recover. People out in the bush were dying within three days without treatment.
Sable asked Adam to take over the supervision at the centre whilst she made visits to the outlying villages to vaccinate everyone, then she was confident she could bring the epidemic under control. She planned to start in a place called Zeerust.

After a tour through the wards Adam got to work immediately taking blood tests and together with the head nurse, administering the medication. Sable summoned Joseph to prepare the land rover and to pack the supplies for their trip the following morning.
Throughout the rest of the day Adam and Sable met at meal times to discuss new patients and Sable told Adam about her plans to treat the sick out in the field. They used what little time there was to get to know each other a little more.
They seemed to like each other right from the start.  

Saturday 6 a.m. 12th March.
At first light Sable was ready to leave the centre, Joseph was up before dawn and filled the land rover with fuel and supplies and checked the vehicle over prior to the arduous journey ahead of them. Adam was also up to see them off, Sable gave him a copy of the journey plans and said she’d be back the following evening before sundown.
Sable and Adam embraced, he wished her a good trip and told her to stay in touch by the shortwave radio on the rover and to call if she needed any help.
Adam and Johnson watched as the rover disappeared out of sight and until the dust trails had dispersed on the breeze. Although he had been in Madikwe barely a day, he already felt an affinity with the centre, and would miss Sable. She knew the people and the country but he couldn’t stop thinking how much he had wanted to go with her to make sure she was safe.
He worked through the heat of the day, struggling to acclimatize quickly, his compassion for the people drove him on.
At midday exactly Sable said she would call in, Adam sat in her office anxiously waiting for her call. Johnson was at the controls of the radio with a head set on, adjusting and twiddling the frequency knob slowly, first to the left, then to the right, his head cocked to one side staring into the air listening intently for a voice, all he could hear was a crackle of interference. They were sitting listening patiently when all of a sudden they heard a voice. It was Sable, sounding a little distant but quite clear. Adam moved his chair as close as he could to catch every word.  She had arrived and had set up ready to start vaccinations. She would call again at seven p.m. after arriving at the next village. Adam and Sable talked for a while, and then, reluctantly, they said goodbye. Adam had lunch and returned to his work at the centre. He had been there less than two days but he already felt an attachment to the centre, and to Sable.
As the afternoon wore on the weather seemed to be changing, the usual tropical rain that came each day appeared to be continuing longer than normal. The rain was getting heavier and heavier, he knew what this meant, he had seen what this bad weather could do many times. It was six thirty and Adam figured they would be in the rover on the way to the next village. He decided to try and contact Sable and Joseph, he asked Johnson to stay at the radio and to keep calling until he had made contact. Joseph called them every five minutes and then listened for their reply, he was just about to take a break when the crackle intensified and he thought he could hear Sables voice coming through on the speaker. Adam smiled, relieved that they had got through to them but he could hear concern in her voice.
‘Where are you Sable? Over.’ Adam asked.
‘We are about twenty miles from the village but the rains are really heavy, they haven’t stopped for hours and the road is getting worse and worse, I’m not sure how much longer we can carry on. The Madikwe river is swollen and Elephant’s bridge is almost under water’
The reception faded in and out, contact was lost momentarily and Adam was getting quite concerned at what she was saying.
‘Where is this bridge Johnson? Do you know it?’
‘Yes, everyone knows this; it’s the main crossing for the miles around for elephants to get from the Madikwe Game reserve to the Northern grasslands. Johnson pointed out the bridge on a map, just above the radio set pinned to the wall.
Just then Sable’s voice came through again.
‘We won’t make it.’ she shouted. ‘We can’t go any further, we’re going to come back but the bridge looks dangerous, Adam what shall we do?’
Johnson was also worried, he told Adam, Joseph was only young, he knew the country but he might panic in such an emergency. 
‘Sable stay right where you are stay inside the rover, we’ll come and get you, don’t try to drive through the rain or over the bridge, promise me you’ll stay there?’ pleaded Adam.
‘Okay Adam we’ll…..’ her voice stopped in mid air, the contact was lost, not even a crackle could be heard from the radio.

Adam told Johnson to fuel up the second Land Rover, to put plenty of rope in the back and meet him out front in fifteen minutes.
Adam fetched a medical kit from the dispensary, he called the head nurse to tell her that he was going and she helped him pack food, blankets and extra clothing. They loaded up the rover and set off, the rain was still falling heavily as they drove away.
Johnson knew the way to the bridge, the tracks were difficult and slippery, Adam could see that Johnson was experienced and had no doubt that they would make it to the bridge.
‘How long will it take Johnson?’ asked Adam.
‘It may take two hours, maybe more.” said Johnson.
He continued driving skillfully along the mud tracks, finding higher, drier ground where he could. Adam held onto the rover tightly as it lurched from side to side, his only thought to get to Sable as quickly as they could, the fear and anxiety in her voice was still ringing in his ears. This wasn’t some rescue mission like countless others he had carried out as a Doctor many times before, this was Sable, for some reason she was staring to mean something to him.
His heart, for once, was taking over, he had to get to her, and soon.

After what seemed like hours, Johnson told Adam that they were getting close. It was dark now and the rain was easing but so much had fallen that the floodwaters would rise through the night. Five minutes later and the bridge came into sight and Johnson called out to Adam.
‘There it is, there is the bridge.’ cried Joseph.
Adam could just see the bridge through the blinding rain. The waters were very high and the old timbers looked shaky but seemed to be undamaged. Nevertheless Adam was worried about the bridge, he had to get across. Somewhere on the other side was Sable.
They both leaned out and Adam held up his hand above his eyes to try to see through the rain, and then sure enough, he could see Sable’s land rover on the other side, the right side leaning over, the wheels buried I the mud. He could see into the Land Rover, there was no sign of Sable …or Joseph.
Johnson said it was better to carry on on foot; they walked carefully through the mud and reached the bridge. The old wooden structure looked like it might collapse at any moment, some of the cross members were already missing and some were broken. The floodwaters were lapping close to the underside. Sable was right, no vehicle would have made it across, they had to try to cross it on foot.
They both set out gingerly, one foot at a time, staying close together should one of them slip or fall. Step by step they managed to cross it, the timbers creaking beneath their feet. As they set foot on the other side they both sighed with relief. Now they were across they could see the rover but where were they?
‘Can you see them Johnson?’
‘No sir.’
‘Lets split up, but stay where you can hear me.’
Off they went in the dark, through the rain and the muddy tracks.
‘Sable!’ Adam shouted. ‘Sable, where are you?’ after each time he would stop and listen, desperate to hear her, to know she was safe. Just ahead he could see something, he looked at Johnson and he could see it too. It was a shack an old ram shackled shack with more holes than walls. He made straight for it, this must be where they were sheltering, he thought.
He reached the hut, pushed open the creaky door and saw a figure in the corner.
‘Sable is that you?’ he asked.
It was.
She was huddled beneath an old piece of plastic sheeting, sheltering and shivering, soaked to the skin, She looked up and was so glad and relieved to see Adam, she could hardly speak.
Adam crossed over to her; she stood up and fell into his arms.
They stood there not moving, Adam held her tightly, one hand on her head as if to protect her like a child. In the semidarkness he could see her face, she leaned her head back. She looked at him; no words were necessary, all the fear and panic subsided in Sable. She was safe in his arms.  He could feel her heart beating against his chest; he felt her breath on his cheek. They moved closer together and their lips met for the first time. They kissed passionately; their embrace grew tighter, it was as if they had been lovers forever. It was not just a kiss born out of relief. It felt like love.
The world and the rains around them seemed to disappear; they were lost in each other.
Adam sat Sable down on a wooden bench and started to make a fire, he found some dry timbers around the hut. He went outside and saw Joseph and Johnson have taken cover beneath some trees and had made a fire. Johnson had already been back to their rover and brought across the food and blankets. They would have to sit out the night and make their return in the morning. The fire began to glow and give off warmth and would dry their clothes. Adam turned while Sable put on some dry clothes and then settled down besides the fire huddled in the blankets.
Adam stoked the fire and made the bench comfortable and sat down beside Sable and put his arms around her. Sable rested her head on Adam’s chest; she thanked him for coming out to her and kissed him softly.  They fell asleep by the light and warmth of the fire.

End of part one.


  1. I like your website. And I am looking forward to your books...that I hope will be available on my Kindle. In the meantime, I'll read your short stories.

  2. Really appreciate it Nancy...let me know what you think, they are all different, I've thought about publishing a short story book....may be I'll do that after book #3.
    Kind Regards