Detta’s Letters Pt. 1

This began on a freezing train journey. Each break point signifies a change of writer; starting with Ian.

The siren whined ever more fiercely as Laura printed down the street. The third night in a row she had been caught outside to the sound after seeing her latest infatuation, Thomas. The fear never felt any less intense in these times. The shattered houses around her were hard to see in the moonlight. Even with the light reflecting off the damp, charred bricks. The nearest shelter was a couple of streets away. Mothers and children poured out onto the street like frightened animals. It wasn’t long before a sea of people filled the street.

The panicked, but somehow still orderly, rush for safety was a marvel. The guard at the door ushered people in as quickly as he could. Making sure each was safe from any risk of falling or being pushed down the stairs before the next was allowed through. Laura had heard of a nightmare rush where people had died in the crowd to get in. Word had spread and this was how things worked now.

The babies crying was almost loud enough to drown out the sound of the siren as she descented the dark stairs. She could see a faint glow of light from the main opening, though this did not stop her foot from faltering. She cursed quietly under her breath as she steadied her self after plummeting towards the hand rail, thankfully this shelter had one. She’d put on her best heels, short though they were, for Thomas. He’d saved up some rations so that they could have a lovely meal by the permitted candle light. Horace, his ginger cat had been most curious through the meal, staring at them for some time tail flicking coyly from side to side. He’d leapt up on the table for a closer look a couple of times. Thomas wasn’t keen on this and promptly hoisted him up and plonked him on the floor. This was met by an angry meow.

Laura had barely sat down before an ear splitting explosion caused the walls to shudder, yellow bulbs flicker, and some dust fall from the ceiling. There was an eerie hush hush that followed; broken by a baby’s wail.

One dying flicker of the lightbulbs saw the shelter plunged into darkness. There was a collective intake of breath as the adults tried to steel themselves and swallow their fear. There was a disturbing stillness - nobody moved, but every ear strained to listen for any sound that might give hope.

The silence was broken by a rustling as fumbling hands lit a match and lit a candle. The flame sputtered, providing little comfort as it pinned flickering shadows to the dank walls.

Laura glanced at the vacant faces, wondering where people had taken themselves in their imagination. She thought back to the town she had grown up in, the life she had taken for granted as a child and blocked out (for the moment) the vision of what they would inevitably emerge to find.

With two world wars behind them, it seemed as though history was drawn to repeat itself, but she had not prepared to find herself so deeply entwined in the sordid happenings. With this thought she instinctively felt for her necklace and the inscribed charm that hung from the silver chain. She rubbed it absentmindedly, partly out of habit and partly for reassurance.

Her childhood had been modest, the North had managed to keep a humble and grounded sense of reality, despite the fall of Parliament in London and shifting power in Leeds as the renewed centre for industry. Remarkably few questions had been asked, but there had undoubtedly been foul play.
As she sat huddled amongst neighbours, friends, strangers, she wondered how much she knew of anything, and what she knew too much of.

She was snapped from her drifting thoughts as a high pitched scream carried from the street above, followed by frantic hammering on the shelter door above.

The sound echoed down the steps in the dimly lit shelter. The hammering sounded like hundreds of fists. The protocol for situations such as this was to not open the door for fear of a chemical or biological agents. Laura had heard of the tales of what has been dubbed 'feral' agent victims waiting outside in a state of pure rage until the sirens ceased and the all clear signaled the emergence of the inhabitants of a shelter. Immediately on the doors opening they had attacked the attendants. It took 5 people to restrain them, but not after they had caused grievous bodily harm to several civilians.

But the screams the other side could be made out. The 'feral' were unable to speak while under the influence of the agent. The aftermath of their actions haunted them all. Fully conscious of all of it. But out of control. The grief had lead some to suicide. The threat of another incident haunted all in the city.

Laura turned as a gentleman called out to let them in. It had become too much for him to bare. "It's my wife!" He exclaimed and made to sprint up the stairs. The attendants blocked his path and held back man's sobbing form. An ear-splitting "Gina!" Rang through the shelter. The babies quieted at the raw sound.

The knocking picked up a renewed pace and urgency. The cries to be let her in had become muffled sobs. Like the sound of babies sheer joy the all clear siren sang. The attendants released the man, now red faced with streaming eyes, who promptly scaled the stairs and after significant effort unlocked the door to be reunited with Gina, who had now collapsed into a pile with sobs turning into relief.

Safely back in her flat Laura tried to put the horror of the evening to the back of her mind, despite becoming more accustomed to this way life — candles, rations, sirens, shelters and so many things she associated with decades past — the events that unfolded never became easy to deal with. Her favourite heels were ruined from the running, which only added to the toxic mix of emotions.

She desperately wanted to speak to Thomas, uncertain as to whether he had been affected by the latest raid, but the curfew was so carefully monitored that she couldn’t risk slipping out into the night. The blanket ban on mobiles amongst ‘commoners’ had been met with outrage and protest, but the battle of the people had been lost for now. This feeling of regression had however brought about a closer sense of local community and had surprised many as they initiated conversation with neighbours and passers by.

One such conversation had led to a blossoming friendship with an elderly lady living two doors down. Bernadette, or Detta as Laura had started calling her, was a curious mystery that needed to be solved. Every day she posted a letter into the disused post box at the end of the street. Even with communication limited as it was, nobody sent letters and the Royal Mail hadn’t functioned for years. Wanting to be helpful Laura had plucked up the courage to ask what the letters were for and where Detta imagined they were going.
“If you truly are interested, maybe you’ll keep me company one afternoon each week” had been the response.

This afternoon was one such meeting day. Thankfully the sweet café a few streets away that Laura had visited with Detta many times was unaffected by the raid and was open for business. Diligently Laura wrapped on the bare wooden front door that Detta had refused to get a knocker installed on. “To stop the youth of today getting too lazy”. The children of the neighbourhood had thankfully given up after a spree of quiet, and painful, knock down ginger attempts.

As always Detta was already in her coat and just had to take short time to don her adorable headscarf. Laura’s heart melted a little every time she saw this. It had been so interesting getting to know Detta’s life story over the weeks. She’d lived such a rich and full life. Her Children had long since flown the nest to settle down abroad. Laura felt that she was a stand in child of hers, but no less loved.

Soup of the day was both of their favorites; broccoli and Stilton. It was especially cosy on the grey and chilly day. After a bit of thought Laura opted for a crusty poppy seeded bread roll. She wasn’t going to be setting Thomas today so it didn’t matter if she had any seeds stuck in her teeth. They sat down on wooden chairs with tired floral cushions on either side of the red checked take both and both sipped on their fruit smoothies. With the battle going on the supply chains weren’t under strain so there was no need for rationing. The soup arrived steaming with an extra bread roll each from the rosy cheeked waitress with a wink. There was even a swirl of cream in the middle like her mum used to do while she was growing up.

The business of the letters hadn’t been addressed, but the two ladies had enjoyed several afternoon teas and lunches together. During this time Detta eagerly spoke about her childhood and early adulthood, growing up in London and starting an independent life at 18 following her dream to become a journalist. She told stories in a way that Laura had never experienced before, where she felt so immersed in the details that it was as if she were reliving Detta’s life.

Detta slowly worked through her soup pushing the spoon to the back of the bowl and gently blowing on every mouthful in between animated one-sided conversation. Laura was quite content with this and nodded along asking questions to gently probe further. Despite the blossoming friendship both were tentative to reveal too much of themselves. But Detta was a risk taker and had stormed into her early career with gusto, getting to know people in high places. Laura suspected that this was probably key to the curious ritual of letter sending.

As Detta scrutinised a spoonful of soup a shadow was cast across their table. Laura glanced up and locked eyes with a man towering over them. He was wearing a wide brimmed hat that partly shaded his face. His demeanour was unthreatening but with intent. He directed his question to Detta — still distracted by a chunk of stilton in her soup.
“Do you have the time?”
She slowly looked up.
“I’m afraid not.”
The answer was odd given that she was wearing a wrist watch and could certainly have offered the time.
The man tipped his hat and left the cafe without a word.

Laura looked across the table with a puzzled expression.
“That’s what I was waiting for my dear” Detta said with a wicked smile, as she lifted a sealed envelope off her lap.
How it had got there Laura couldn’t fathom, but it seemed that they had both just met the messenger. And perhaps Laura had proved herself to be a trustworthy accomplice.

Detta quickly set about mopping up her soup with one of the rolls. Laura’s curiosity had her following suit and they are both done and dabbing their mouths with a napkin in unison. Thankfully she’d religiously made sure that her afternoons evenings were clear when she met Detta for lunch. Just in case it happened to be the day that she would find out what exactly the letters were about!

They thanked the staff, who were now much more familiar to the pair and they had a bit of repoirte going on now. Laura really wanted to bring Thomas to the little Café because it made her heart swell so. Destruction around but in the midst of it all this, the perfect escape.

“Right! Keep up, because there’s no stopping now!” Detta declared with a glint in her eye.
Laura was taken aback by just how quickly Detta took off. She’d not been slow before. But this was like a new lease of life. She took quick steps to rejoin her side. Detta’s focus was fixed at the end of the street. She glanced over her shoulder occasionally. Laura could see too that amongst the broken glass she peered to check for something behind her. She’s scared of a tail! She realised. Now, this was far more exciting than she had originally thought.

Despite living in the area for quite some time Laura soon became aware that she was passing unfamiliar houses and streets. She’s taken several steps before she realised that Detta had slipped away. “This way!” She called cheerily to Laura; without breaking her stride.
She actually had to run to catch up this time. She really wasn’t kidding about no stopping! She thought to herself. A little down the alley there was an offshoot of another alley way which they practically frog marched down. Detta stopped suddenly. She wrapped on a rugged plank of wood that looked like it was a discarded bit of fence. A deep, muffled voice on the other side responded. “Do you have the time?”. Laura’s heart skipped a beat. No! It couldn’t be! It was just like being in her favourite spy books. Her inner child squealed.

“Just past the hour, would you agree?” Detta responded coolly.
Laura checked her watch, it was quarter to. This must be the coded answer that would gain them entry to whatever lay behind the plank. There was a muffled creak as the wood shifted, allowing just enough of a gap for the ladies to slide past one by one.

There didn’t appear to be any source of light inside, apart from the faint shaft cast from the remaining daylight. It wasn’t enough to make out the man behind the voice and he had turned to walk swiftly down the echoey corridor. Laura suspected he was wearing a smart brogue style shoe from the resonance of each step. She stumbled slightly and instinctively reached out for support, latching on to Detta’s hand.
The pace continued to be brisk regardless of their limited vision, so she assumed that this was not a first visit for her mysterious friend.
She started to lose her bearings as they turned a corner abruptly, but this brought some faint light in the distance.

It was a cavernous room, reaching up several floors, perhaps a former warehouse. Gigantic shelves extended into the rafters, all filled with paper envelopes. There was a quiet buzz of activity as people scuttled around the walkways with arms full of papers. Others hung precariously from the ladders that ran the length of each bookcase-like structure. 
Was this a sorting office? Wondered Laura as she gazed open mouthed at this secret operation unfolding in front of her.

“Keep moving” said a deep voice to her side. It was the man who had led them here. Laura turned to him, noting his round gold rimmed glasses — just like Thomas’ father wore. She blinked to be sure. It was him!

A figure darted from behind a ceiling-high shelf, which startled Laura. As she stepped back to get out of the way she collided with another person in a hurry and a flurry of papers flew into the air. Her face painted with despair at what she’d done. The victim let out a quiet sigh while tilting her head and squinting at Laura. After a short moment of scrutiny she squatted and set about picking up the papers and folders that had successfully scattered over quite an area. Laura joined her and they quickly had an armful each.

She couldn’t get a lot in the dim light but she could see from the brown paper that they were files rather than letters. She’d clearly got herself involved in something more than she bargained for when her curiosity piqued at the sweet lady walking to a post box. Thankfully the folders were quite tightly bound with Blue and white string around a button clasp. So it was just some stray standalone documents to pick up. These though; she could see were a record of correspondence. Between whom she could not tell but the urgency and content immediately showed her that they were very powerful.

Francis straightened up with a slight expression of displeasure, which he quickly wiped off with a beaming smile. “It’s you! What a lovely turn of events! I knew Thomas had picked a good one but this just makes it all the better! You’re joining the cause!?”. This was happening. Whatever it was she couldn’t hide her excitement.
“Yes! Whatever this is. I’m in!” She exclaimed. She realised she needed to breath. She let out a huge breath and filled her lungs. Like a weight being lifted off her shoulders.

Francis embraced her after another beaming smile at Detta. He’d always seemed a bit distant to Laura in the past. But this warmer, passion filled side to him was refreshing amongst the gloom that the conflict had bought out. He kept an arm around her as they walked briskly towards a doorway into the side of the room. “I’ll bring you up to speed in my office. It’s so good to have another one of us! Even Thomas doesn’t know what I do. Keeping secrets is much tougher than I used to think!”
The door opened with a satisfying creak and the catch clicked shut with a twang.

Francis lowered himself into the ornate mahogany and leather chair behind the desk littered with files and papers. He gestured towards the wingback armchairs and the ladies took their queue to seat themselves as well. With elbows on the desktop he gently placed his finger tips together and peered over his glasses. Laura could sense the seriousness of his body language.

“Now I trust Detta as a good judge of character and I gather that you have shown great loyalty and curiosity. What you see here is a top secret operation, but I am going to share some context with you. This information will put you in a much more vulnerable position, should word get out. Are you content to take on that responsibility young lady?”

She had come this far, what was there to lose? She nodded sombrely, not wanting to appear too reckless and immature, but inwardly squealing with anticipation.

“The letters you have seen Detta sending, I’m sure you realise there is something special about them. What you may not have realised is that we are in the business of communicating vital information — however the letters themselves are not of interest to us, we have to decipher cryptic messages held within the images of the stamps. A keen eye is needed along with magnification, it’s a tedious job that requires great patience…”

Before he could finish his explanation a loud bell sounded. The look of horror told her that this wasn’t a good sound.

A, colleague she supposed now, burst through the door to the office; eyes wide open and breathless. He held up a letter, his hand quivering. The shake had become so violent that the latter was rattling against the smoked glass cabinet at the side of the room. Rat-tatat! Seconds later several more of her colleagues had funneled in and were now standing behind Laura. Her mouth felt suddenly dry. Her heart was thumping strongly in her chest.

The bell eventually stopped its peel and Francis extended a hand to the first man with the letter. He was almost startled by this and almost recoiled at the sight of the outstretched arm. But after shaking his head he seemed to quickly snap out of it and relinquished what Laura had now identified as the offending article. Francis fished out a magnifying glass from his desk drawer. Next he fished out a small pocket sized notebook, which he opened and flicked through what must have been 30 pages full of letter grids.

He scrawled letter after letter on a scrap of paper. Each with an excruciating pause while he calculated the next value. She could make out “HEL” so far. She could guess the next letter. Sure enough, “P”. Around 10 minutes later everyone in the shell office was muttering speculations to one another. Francis cleared his throat and the office fell silent at once.

“This is very worrying news. Our friends on the front are in immediate danger. It mentions a new, unseen threat that they’ve likened to the Rage. But with a delayed onset. It’s horrifying enough to know when it’s coming. I’m sure we’ve all seen the effects of the rage here. I needn’t explain the gravity of this news.”

“We have to get word to the general at once. None of our means are safe enough. But the importance of this message is beyond anything we’ve heard before.” It was a known problem that troop communications containing anything sensitive could not be transmitted for fear of interception and tampering. The enemy had intercepted and drilled up propaganda many times before the British had realised this. Laura was more feeling sick at the thought of what must have happened over there for them to discover it. How many had died? How many soldiers were now traumatized by their actions? Were any left alive to tell the tale?

She didn’t have long to ponder this before she felt all eyes on the room turn their focus on her. Francis looked expectantly at her. Seeing she hasn’t heard, or more accurately hadn’t been listening he asked again. “Would you take it, Laura? Some of us here are already known to the enemy. But being our newest member you’re the least likely to be discovered on the way. Thomas trusting you is good enough for me to entrust you with this responsibility.” Her chest felt fit to burst with pride and dread being felt together. He tried his best to smile warmly. But she could see the vulnerability in his eyes. “Yes, okay. Tell me where.” She found herself saying before she realised it. She had a feeling this may be the last moment of any semblance of safety she would be feeling any time soon.

Laura whirled around the bedroom in a frenzy. She had remained calm and composed during the briefing, without a moment to take in the enormity of the task ahead. She plucked a few essentials from her wardrobe and chest of drawers — this would be the lightest she had ever packed. She tried to focus on rolling the items of clothing is the most space saving manner she could, but found her mind wandering. Would she return to the flat? Would she see she her friends and family again? How had this all happened?

She had not been given any sensitive information to transport yet, and felt that Francis had deliberately left pieces of the puzzle out of place. The story would no doubt build around her.
But for now she knew that she had to take the express 348 bus out of town, heading South. She had a seat reserved on the 18:42, and couldn’t start her mission by being late. With only 15 minutes to finish gathering her belongings and get to the bus station, time was tight. There’d be no time to say goodbyes, which she thought would bring about immediate suspicion. But she had to trust the experts.

Leave a note? She wondered. And against her better judgment she scrawled a few words on a scrap of paper from her retro ‘to-do’ list calendar. She was second guessing herself as she hurriedly wrote a supposedly casual note for Thomas to find. They often left tokens of affection in the crack between her front door frame and the brick surround. She couldn’t risk interception, so the words said nothing on the surface, but perhaps he had his Father’s skill for reading between the lines.

She wasn’t really used to packing for carrying. Her holidays had been by car or plane until the conflict broke out. With the total lack of availability of private transport now she knew it would be a backpack. She clambered into her loft and hefted through the Christmas decorations and the last remains of her childhood possessions to uncover her Leather strapped backpack. It’d seen her through school and college. But her recent transition into adulthood had meant she’d taken to handbags, none of which quite had enough room for her belongings.

She had a major moment of dread when she tightened the clasps on the bag again. The enormity of the task had begun to hit her. She wanted to gulp but her throat was dry. One last sip of water she and she left the glass alone on the kitchen worktop. Mustering up her resolve she puffed out her chest and confidently walked out, shut the door and glanced back before heading off down the street in the direction of the 348 bus. She’d cut the timing fine so she walked at a pace that quickly found her breathing hard so.that she could make it in time. She couldn’t help but feel like people she passed in the street were watching her. She tried shaking it off. But had to hum to herself to silence the growing paranoia.

To her relief she saw the bus waiting as she turned the final corner. The guard, all buses now had them, was smoking outside, with a brief scrutiny of her ticket he gestured for her to get on. It was quite empty. A mother and child sat near the front. Her buried in magazine and the child sticking her tongue out with concentration as she was doing a great job staying in between the lines colouring a toucan in a very different set of colours to what she was used to. It warmed her heart to see the innocence. She was grateful that her seat happened to be booked for right behind them. The mother looked up and beamed at her as she passed to sit down.

“Ah! Some company! Express it might be but it’s not as quick as it was before all of this. My magazines just don’t get me the whole way now!”

As the bus pulled away and wound its way out of town the two ladies were already deep in conversation. More than just light chit chat, it looked as though they had been long time friends. Elsie had shared a page from her sketch book that Laura was idly colouring in while she talked with her new found friend.
It took one question to slightly disturb the harmonious scene. “So, where are you off to?” asked Beth.

With a jolt Laura was brought back to her reality, and wasn’t sure how to smooth over her mysterious circumstances. She deflected by mentioning relatives who needed some help as their house had been damaged in one of the recent raids. She instantly wished she hadn’t offered such detail. Beth smiled with a flicker of curiosity. “We’re visiting my parents out in the country. I probably shouldn’t let on, but dad is quite heavily involved in the war, so we can only visit when we are summoned and the coast is clear. But I didn’t tell you that…” she added with a mischievous smile.

Now out in the rolling green landscape that was so typically English it seemed that towns, cities and the mayhem of the war were long left behind. The bus slowed. Laura didn’t think anything of it, assuming that the driver had to give way to another vehicle on the narrow country road. Beth, meanwhile, started gathering up her belongings. “This is us”, she said as she stuffed pencils into her daughter’s pencil case. This struck Laura as odd, given that this was the express service.

“This is you too m’m” the bus driver called down to Laura. Elsie grabbed her hand and the three disembarked. 
They found themselves outside a large set of intricate iron gates with an intercom system that seemed out of place. Beyond it Laura could see a long driveway and a large estate complete with a grand Georgian house. She decided not to question anything and see what played out. Made all the harder for her as a helicopter appeared over the horizon, clearly heading towards them.

It was Forest Green, but easily big enough to take on the unknowing passengers. Elsie was gawping at the sight. Beth seemed used to it and was growing a bit antsy. It seemed to take a while on its approach. Perhaps the path was much longer than Laura first thought. She was relieved Elsie’s excitement let her get away with not continuing the conversation. “Who’s flying that Laura!?” she half-demanded.

“I don’t know. Who do you think it is Elsie?”
“Hmmm. Well it COULD be Uncle James” she said as she held her hand to her chin, face scrumpled in deep thought.
“Maaaaybe Granddad though. Mummy said he used to fly her in helicopters when she was younger. I’ve never been in one though!”
“Well, perhaps now will be the first time!” Exclaimed Laura, who crouched down next to Elsie.
Beth glanced back at them. Her impatience wiped off her face to be replaced by a beaming smile.
“Do you have any kids Laura?” She asked. “It’s such a lovely sight whenever they’re talking to someone new.”

“I’m afraid I don’t. Since all of this started it just hasn’t felt right to introduce a newborn to the sporadic life I have now”

“That sounds like a good level head you have there! Well, you’ll be a brilliant mum when the time comes from what I’m seeing with your new admirer here.”
Laura blushed. She’d always loved kids. Several of her friends had them now, although a bit younger than Elsie. She loved the innocence and sense of wonder they had. But definitely aware of how she could hand them back. She ended up feeling completely tired after a day out with them, but content.

The chopping blades were now not far off and the sound was deafening. Elsie’s squeals of excitement were barely audible against the blades. All three of them had to squint as their hair all flapped around wildly in the downdraft. As it touched down Elsie tore up the distance between them; arms spread wide open her squeal now with a throb in time with her footsteps.
“Remember what I said honey! It’s just for a short while!” Beth called out. Just as a member of the crew leant out. Sir her up, and quick as a flash engulfed her head in a hood. The squeal stopped, replaced by two screams. Elsie and Laura.

As she was bundled into the helicopter Laura felt disappointed that she hadn’t been able to see inside the mansion rather than scared. It seemed that the unsettling nature of this whole operation was something she was able to tolerate. Next to her Elsie’s small body was still but the soft jolting movements gave away the sobs she was stifling.

Inside the hood neither had any idea of who else was travelling with them, and the deafening noise from wind and rotary blades gave nothing helpful away. Laura tried to reach out in comfort, but only caused the young girl to jump with fear.

They remained in the air for at least half an hour, in silence. Laura’s mind racing and trying to make sense of the warm and friendly mother she had met and misjudged. She thought. After several severe banks and turns, the helicopter started its decent. Only now were the goods removed.

Before taking in who her ‘deceitful captors’ were Laura strained to look out of the window. They appeared to be over sea, with no sign of land.
What she couldn’t see was the small island below, made up primarily of what could best be described as an abandoned fortress.
Giving up on her hope of seeing anything informative out if the window, she turned to check on Elsie. She was still shrouded and huddled almost in foetal position.
And beyond her sat Thomas, looking sheepish.

As she was bundled into the helicopter Laura felt disappointed that she hadn’t been able to see inside the mansion rather than scared. It seemed that the unsettling nature of this whole operation was something she was able to tolerate. Next to her Elsie’s small body was still but the soft jolting movements gave away the sobs she was stifling.

Inside the hood neither had any idea of who else was travelling with them, and the deafening noise from wind and rotary blades gave nothing helpful away. Laura tried to reach out in comfort, but only caused the young girl to jump with fear.

They remained in the air for at least half an hour, in silence. Laura’s mind racing and trying to make sense of the warm and friendly mother she had met and misjudged. She thought. After several severe banks and turns, the helicopter started its decent. Only now were the goods removed.

Before taking in who her ‘deceitful captors’ were Laura strained to look out of the window. They appeared to be over sea, with no sign of land.
What she couldn’t see was the small island below, made up primarily of what could best be described as an abandoned fortress.
Giving up on her hope of seeing anything informative out if the window, she turned to check on Elsie. She was still shrouded and huddled almost in foetal position.
And beyond her sat Thomas, looking sheepish.

Laura’s eyes widened. She wasn’t sure what emotion she was feeling, but it didn’t feel like her usual love towards him. Seeing Elsie being taken like that had really shaken her up. She started to wonder just wish she’d really stepped into. How could she feel like she was doing a good thing when she worked with people who do this.

A weak smile emerged on Thomas’s face. He screwed up his mouth like he did when he knew he’d done something that would annoy her. She’d always found it to be adorable in the past. But this time she was almost disgusted. He broke the far-from-silence with a yelled “Laura, I’m sorry!”. Before returning his face to an apologetic smile. She folded her arms and continued to stare out towards the fortress.

She felt a small hand squeeze her arm, and turned to see a red faced Elsie frowning at her. Her cheeks wet with tears. Laura scooped her up and squeezed her tightly, cradling her head in her hand. The sobs were soon replaced by sniffing. Which told her the tears were stopping. She allowed herself to take some deep breaths. She felt lighter, but not from the emotion and adrenaline now leaving her system. But because they were descending. A gust must have guy the helicopter, the passengers wobbled in unison.

The sea spray soon cleared the tear remnants from her face. The cool air refreshing after the stuffy cabin. The armed guards send really out of place. Standing sentry in what looked like bin bags to stay dry. She was ushered through the iron gates into the cold fortress. A man in a well ironed shirt greeted her with a firm handshake. She was still boiling with outage at how they treated Elsie. It took all her self control not to start shouting at him. The guards didn’t help her feel welcome at all.

Seated on cold worn metal chairs in a windowless room that resembled a cell from Alcatraz, Laura, Elsie and Thomas were offered cups of tea. A gesture that should have felt hospitable, but was delivered with such regimental efficiency that it only set Laura further on edge.
The man who had greeted them stood with his hands clasped behind his back to address them.

“I think we owe you an explanation”. The words were directed at Laura, but she wondered if this was for all of their benefits.
“We’ve brought you here under slightly false pretences, but it needed to be done this way I’m afraid.” He shifted his steely gaze towards Elsie.
“Despite how it may have appeared, this young lady is our greatest concern. She is Bernadette’s granddaughter — I believe you know Bernadette…”
Laura felt a chill run down her spine. She had been thrown yet another curve ball.

Without permitting a pause for Laura to think the man continued.
“We need you and Thomas to take her into your care as your own. We have accommodation waiting for you. You will be starting lives under new identities.”

Abruptly he turned on his heels as a couple of guards entered the room. Laura put her tea down, she wasn’t going to consume anything offered by these people. She wondered how she start to get some answers before her life was ripped away from her. Although starting a family did sound charming, even under such unconventional conditions.

She turned to Thomas, smiling weakly. She could see his mind was elsewhere as he snapped his attention back to acknowledge her. His shoulders raised as his chest heaved with a sigh. A smile spread across his face as he approached her to settle by her side.

“Whatever it takes to make this girl safe. I’m in.”
“I just can’t believe what’s happening. The way they took her. It… It was awful. I can’t be sure they mean to keep her safe at all.”
“I can’t imagine. I’ve not seen you this worked up before. Frankly it’s scary.”
He gingerly put his arm around her shoulders. Shortly after she visibly relaxed; resting her head on his shoulder. He rested his chin on top. They say there embraced. Laura felt safe in his arms. Thomas felt as though he was finally able to offer her something. He’d felt bad about how sparse their contact had been. The lies he’d had to say, he felt guilty and in need of addressing it.

“I’m so sorry, Laura… I don’t know how I can make this deception up to you”
He closed his eyes, feeling her stiffen in his arms. He braced himself for the abuse he felt he deserved.
“You did what had to be done. The lives of all these people would have been in jeopardy just by telling me. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you more.”
She was so gracious in the face of betrayal. Thomas has to compose himself before continuing.
“I love you. You know that, right? Seeing how much you can care for a girl you barely knew. It’s not conventional. But i think we can help this girl to live a normal life, don’t you?”

Laura had to sniff to let herself talk.
“Oh Thomas. I love you too, so much.” She paused, looking up to see Thomas turn away, tears forming in his eye.
“We can’t just leave Elsie to this life. Come here sweetheart!”
Elsie had heard all of this and was becoming overwhelmed. By the time she reached them tears were streaming down her face. The recent events and love she was feeling reaching out to her was too much. Laura hugged her ever tighter so that she’d feel safe.

Three small suitcases were waiting at the door. Laura stifled a laugh at the stereotypical daddy, mummy & baby scale and arrangement of bags with appropriate outdoor wear slung over each. Partly out of spite she picked up the largest case announcing “This one for me then” to nobody in particular and shrugged on the oversized jacket. She gently turned to Elsie and encourage her to take the smallest bag, leaving Thomas to sheepishly gather the remaining red velvet coat and carpet bag.

A boat was waiting with orders to take the newly formed family to a remote island. From that point on nobody seemed to be in the know, least of all Laura. This bothered her, but she’d decided to cut her losses and go with the flow, it appeared that things were made easier if she didn’t resist — although this was not in her nature. A guard handed her a stack of maps without a word. 
“What are these for?” she snapped.
“You may find them interesting. All will become clear”.
She shrugged her shoulders and turned to Thomas, hoping he could shed some light. His expression was blank.

Slapping on a brave face Laura stuffed the bundle into one of the huge coat pockets and scooped up Elsie. “Okay, adventure part two, what do you think we might find?”
Elsie started deep into Laura’s eyes searching for the fear that she felt, secretly hoping she would find comfort and reassurance. Laura held the gaze and smiled “I reckon there’ll be a secret den, and if not we’ll make one, just for us”

Elsie’s eyes sparkled and she was captured by the idea for a moment. Thomas softly guided the pair aboard the small vessel and tried to look brave despite his shivers, thanks to the lack of coat.

Like what you read? Give Ian Field a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.