This is Chapter 2 of my novel The Lost Burdens to read Chapter 1 click here
The rain was beating down on the roof of the little black cab like the marching feet of a Roman Legion. He could not help but feel slightly thrilled by the sound. Fraser wasn’t sure what it was about being inside when the rain was falling this hard, but it made him feel a great sense of joyfulness.
He supposed it came from a dream he’d had a few years ago, one he remembered extraordinarily well. In this dream he’d been with his grandfather and Georgina inside a little house overlooking the Severn Bridge in the distance. They’d all three of them been wrapped up in blankets, shivering in their damp clothes.
His grandfather had handed the three of them three cups of hot tea in dainty little glasses that were chipped and old, more fit to be decor than for serving Tetley’s. Georgina had said something about sunny beaches and he’d laughed as had his grandfather. It had all been extremely pleasant, warm in the of comfort of loved ones.
The strange thing about the dream that stood out to him were the markings on Georgina’s arm. She didn’t have those in the real world, the ones that he and his grandfather had. Inscriptions on their upper arms all the way down past their elbows to their wrists. Markings no one else could understand.
The dream had come to an end rather swiftly and he woke up to feel Georgina wrapped around him snoring ever so lightly. Fraser had looked at her and smiled and then thought oddly to himself how in the dream Georgina hadn’t seemed like a lover but more a friend. Strange that he should diminish their relationship, even if only in dream, but he did not question it and was merely glad it wasn’t a horrid nightmare.
Looking out at the rain he was still unsure why that dream haunted him so, and why he held on to it with such determination. It was just a silly dream after all. Nothing like the real world in front of him, The Hen with windows full of light acting as bright beacons in the dark. And it called to him all the comforts of the familiar.
“That’ll be eleven pounds.” His driver said.
He quickly took out a ten and five pound note and told the driver to keep the change with a smile before reluctantly stepping out in to the storm. He made a quick dash from the drop off point to The Hen across a crescent shaped plot of glass where four wooden tables were in the process of being drenched.
Inside he let out a sigh of relief and a grin at being back in his old haunt. The bar had been his home for much of his university life. Here he’d experienced so much; from the first time chundering during his fresher’s year, to a horrible date he went on with a girl named Sydney, to getting punched by Georgina’s’ then recent boyfriend Liam after confessing his feelings to her.
Aye, many memories indeed and most were happy ones. Aside from the punch he got from Liam. In fairness, he was sure the poor man had faced karmas wrath when moments later he was sandwiched between Fraser’s retaliating fist and Georgina’s backhanded slap (with a hand full of solid metal jewellery no less!)
And in that same seat as before was where he found…Georgina’s coat? Ah, and Georgina at the pool table playing against whom appeared to be either a first or second year student that had clearly underestimated her skill and grace even after three pints of Heineken.
As he got closer, he saw Nathan and Molly sitting in the corner. Fraser waved at them as he approached, and they nodded in greeting before turning their attention back to the game. Taking a seat next to Nathan, Fraser was handed a pint of Stella from which he took a deep gulp perfectly aware he was playing catch up.
“How much she gambling?” Fraser asked.
“Twenty quid, and she’s red.” Nathan grinned.
He looked to the table. Not a single red ball in sight, but a perfectly lined up shot on the black ball for the corner pocket. He almost felt bad for the poor lass who was about to lose not a small sum for a student. Georgina clearly had no such feelings, eyeing up the shot with a cocky smirk and, as her opponent let out a heavy sigh, made the perfect shot and punched the air with a grin.
“Yes!” She exclaimed, as the student dropped her money, muttered something rude under her breath, and walked away to re-join her friends who tried and failed to hide their own amusement at her loss. Georgina turned and grinned at Molly, not yet having realised Fraser. had joined them.
“Twenty quid, that’s at least three rounds of Jaeger bombs!”
“No, no, no, no, fuck no!” Molly protested. “I ain’t doing bombs, no way, not after last time.”
“You were fine.” Georgina insisted.
“I felt like my heart was going to jump out of me chest Gines!” She exclaimed. “No, I’m on the pints, and the pints is it. Got me?”
Georgina threw her head back dramatically and pouted. “Mmmmm, fine! Nathan, are you gonna be a yellow belly to?”
“I just found out my parents are having another child in their late forties. Line me up.” He insisted.
“And what about me babes?” Fraser pipped in. Georgina then noticed him, and her eyes immediately brightened and her grin, beyond all logic, grew twice as big. He assumed he also had the same stupid look on his face judging from his friends vocal disgust as she leaped into his arms and in to a deep kiss.
“Oh, for fucks sake, will you to give it a rest? You’ve only been apart for all of half a day!”
“Aye and it felt like a lifetime.” He mock cried.
“You see me kicking that girls arse?”
“I watched with pride.”
“As I’ll watch you, caaaaaaause,” She started into the chant that had led him to many hangovers, “we like to drink with Fraser, cause Fraser is our mate! And when we drink with Fraser, he down it all in eight! Seven! Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! One!”
“Whey!” the three of them cheered as he huffed for breath holding up the empty glass like it was the World Cup.
“Now for some Jagger bombs!” He called out and the moans of Molly were drowned out by the enthused celebrations of Nathan and Georgina. Aye it was good to be where he belonged, with his lass and his best friends in the world!
For a moment he thought the train had come to a stop. He felt his whole body lurching forward and his hands reaching out and bracing for the impact. Yet the train was travelling the same as always and Joseph was left looking up embarrassed expecting strange looks from his fellow passengers.
That was not the case, each person seemed to be completely enamoured in their own devices. Clicking, tapping, listening – each person disconnected completely from the other. Or so it seemed to him at first glance. After all, nothing was ever as it was on the surface. Living many lives had taught him that lesson quite quickly.
The feeling of the train suddenly coming to a halt might have been simply the effect of his dozing mind processing the information around him – that he was on a train and trains do not declare their stops very well. He knew it wasn’t. He was going to move again, and soon! Much sooner than the last world. That could be a good thing, the more he moved the harder it was for Bernard to find him. And yet he hoped he would stay, if only long enough to find Fraser.
He was the key, the last solution he had. If he remembered anything at all, that is. It had been so long, and he knew the longer the time spent fixed in one place the more that place felt like a home. He supposed that was why it was a gift to never stay in one place permanently. The permeance of being in one place carries a huge burden, you must be there in every part of your being, or you may as well be gone.
There were many things in this world that he had lost, and those losses were as far from him as the stars from the sun. They were distance and visible, but they could never hold dominion over him. And even if he could make the same choice as his grandson, he wouldn’t. His work was more important now than it had ever been.
On instinct he reached out to the small plastic bag he’d bought at Kings Cross, for a sandwich and a bottle of water and a newspaper, where he felt the bindings of the book under his withering finger tips. He clasped it tightly for but a second before letting it go and returning to his position of laying against the window.
This time he would not fall asleep. Not even if the pitter patter of the rain was lulling him off into a peaceful oblivion.
Fraser, he thought, I have to find Fraser, I have to find…Fraser…I… have to…find….
Walkens had never been to the Grand Marshall’s complex before. He’d of course seen it from the outside on passing his way through the outskirts of London but that was only once or twice. Bernard’s fortress was a terrifyingly impressive stronghold, built like a castle and fit for a king. And here he may as well be king.
His rise to power had been ruthless and absolute, and while the Reich called for such qualities in their most ranked servants even those who served in the camps shivered a little when the name Bernard was mentioned.
Walkens told himself it was all going to be fine, that he had done his duty and gone above and beyond. He’d searched the house and the tunnels and all towns within ten miles of the tunnels exit for three days. Nothing had been found, not even a drop of blood. Then the body vanished. It was beyond Walkens understanding how that had occurred.
He’d questioned his soldiers and all had told him the same with the upmost uprightness – it had simply vanished without a trace or even a sound. Vanished like mist in the air in front of three of his most trusted soldiers.
Walkens believed them, but would Bernard?
He should have kissed his wife goodbye, kissed his boys one last time even if they found his love embarrassing in their teenage years. Few walked out of Bernard’s fortress and lived to tell the tale. And those that did, they were there only to bare witness to his justice.
He was blindfolded on entry, all weapons and potential weapons removed – that included his belt and his shoes. He did not hear the voice of a single person, rather an automated voice from some sort of computer. The soldiers who guided him did not utter a word. He wondered if they could. There were rumours of an elite guard whose tongues had been removed so they could speak no secrets. Gossip amongst the soldiery he was sure, until that moment.
When the blindfold was removed, he was standing in front of a tall oak door that was partially ajar. And he was standing alone. Not a single guard in front of him, beside him, or in the narrow corridor behind him. Was it peculiar that this only enhanced his fear? Perhaps he hoped that the punishment would not be severe with others watching.
No, he thought, he would not hold back on account of the watchful eyes of his guards.
He considered turning and running and not stopping until he was out of the complex and lost to the forest that surrounded it for dozens of miles. He could live as his ancestors had intended, a part of nature and not one of its oppressors.
It was only a passing thought, and he knew it would accomplish nothing. It wasn’t as if Bernard had anything less than the entire force of the British Reich under his command. Forward was the only option, into the jaws of death. He would only hope that he was not swallowed whole, merely instead ‘chewed out’ as he’d heard his American compatriots say.
He pushed open the door and was surprised to find he was not as alone as he thought. In front of him was a woman, young and blonde sitting behind an oval desk. She was not in uniform, not one that he recognised anyway. Her garb was dark and resembled more armour than his own jacket and trousers which were nowhere near as protective. If a bullet were to be aimed anywhere but her head, it wouldn’t so much as graze flesh.
“The grand Marshall is waiting for you inside.” She said. Her voice, it was the same from the radio. Who was she he wondered – his secretary? Or his bodyguard? Or both? He offered her a simple nod and moved forward to his right through another set of, smaller, oak doors where he met his commander.
Bernard was in full uniform, traditional unlike the young woman outside his little office. Walkens had to admit he was not expecting something so…warm. The brightly lit office was filled with the scent of lavender, and the light bounced off the light brown walls. The desk was covered in papers and had a computer but also had a small selection of books that were definitely considered as light reading and there were even several paintings of the wall which were depicting of nature from rolling hills to massive solar bodies.
Bernard stood in front of a mirror where he appeared to be addressing himself, though Walkens knew not why nor cared to speculate as to what reason. Walkens stood still, silent, with his hands crossed behind his back as he waited to be addressed. He was wise enough to know when to keep his silence.
Bernard walked away from the mirror and placed himself behind his desk, his arms placed in front of him with his fingers interlocking. He looked up at Walkens and nodded at the seat opposite him. He took this invitation and briskly crossed the small sized space to seat himself opposite the Grand Marshall. He did not nod nor smile nor salute nor even so much as breathe, should that be an action that would lead to pain on his part.
Bernard spared no time and said forthrightly, “You can relax Seargent, you won’t be dying tonight. You will be demoted for your failures, and you’ll give me a briefing in full on the events of the night before. After that you will leave,“ then in a low growl he added menacingly, “and shall never fail me again.”
He wanted to let out the air he was holding and feel the relief as sweet as it was, but he knew he was on thin ice and he would do nothing to further compromise the position he stood in. And so Seargent Walkens began to speak, he spoke clearly and, somehow, kept the relief and the joy and the anxiety from his voice as he explained to the Grand Marshall what had occurred.
He told him everything he had witnessed, everything his soldiers had witnessed, though he remained mute on the oddity that was the vanishing body unsure if it would help or hinder in his predicament. All the while Bernard sat and listened patiently as the Seargent went further into detail than was surely necessary. When he stopped talking, he felt frightfully drained. How long had he been rattling on for? A few hours? Or perhaps he was well into the next day? Bernard seemed to mind not, he only questioned for clarity.
“What of the body?”
“Speak Walkens! Or I’ll have your head, Fuhrers fury be damned!”
“N-no body Grand Marshall. Not even a blood stain… I…I can’t even explain-“
“Yes well of course you wouldn’t.” He sighed. “But you did see it before it…evaporated, yes?”
“Umm, yes Grand Marshall.” The snivelling sergeant stumbled over his words.
“Did he look like this?” The Grand Marshall placed a crudely drawn sketch in front of Seargent Walkens.
Examining it closely, and with some trepidation, he answered honestly, “Yes Grand Marshall. A little older perhaps, but yes.”
“Hmmm, so he’s dead.” He then did the oddest thing and began laughing. “Thank you Walkens, you are dismissed.”
Walkens, confused but dutiful, nodded and saluted his leader before leaving. In walked the Grand Marshall Chief commination’s officer who saluted her leader before asking, “What shall I convey to the Prime?”
Grand Marshall Bernard leaned forward in his chair and grinned. “Convey to him that James is deceased and that the book is beyond them. The grand rising cannot fail now!”
What was the grand rising, Walkens wondered as he left the office. Then glancing into the panel on the wall turned a shade of white and rushed out and into the arms of two men who blindfolded him once more and escorted him out.
It was daytime when he exited the compound and he was glad of it, glad to be out in the open air and glad to be free of that wretched house of witchcraft. All the stories he’d heard, they were indeed frightening. But nothing he’d witnessed quite terrified him as looking into what he thought to be a mirror and seeing the same office reflected and the reflection of Grand Marshall alone smirking back at him in the place he should be standing – a single finger on his lip the promise he would make in that moment.
Chapter 2 for you, and I will be back in another fortnight with the next instalment of The Lost Burdens. As always, feel free to – like, follow, comment, give me money (or garlic bread, I accept this as a form of payment) and adios till the next time. Sincerely, Harvey John ( me!)
Twitter – @HarveyJohnEIM
Instagram – @HarveyJohnScorpio
TikTok – @HarveyJohnWriter
Stumbling around in his kitchen, Fraser looked to the sink with great trepidation. Should he dare? God knows the girls could take their time and Nathan was looking to be ready to drop a rock – essentially giving birth in a man’s world. And he was last to call dibs!
“Gina’ll kill me.” He sighed.
The bursting feeling in his bladder was overwhelming he wasn’t sure he could hold on much longer.
“Sod it!” He exclaimed, or rather slurred as he woozily unzipped his trousers and prepared to drown the previous night’s cutlery in beery urine…