Sunday, 24 April 2011

Riders - Missing (Chapter 6 - More than a game)

I am now about a quarter of the way through my story, so this will be the last full chapter that I post on my blog.  But not to worry, I will still give short bits every so often and once it is complete will let you all know.  In this chapter however, I would really like some input from any golfing experts out there on whether what I have put down is correct or not.  Not a golf player myself I have had to go on what I have heard on watching recent golf games on tv. 

The shortening shadows of the four riders stretched out across the first tee as the red sun rose slowly above the horizon awakening a new dawn on a beautiful Sunday morning. 
The brightening sky in different shades of blue, was cloudless and the gentle breeze softly shimmered the neatly mown kikuyu grass.  The flat wide fairway bordered by bushveld, shaped a welcome haven for their relaxation.
‘Beautiful day for a round of golf,’ commented Khaos raising his Oakley sunglasses to gaze down the first fairway.  He took note of the fairway bunker on the left and selecting his five iron he removed the fluffy bear sock protection.  Fashionable attired in a red Nike polo-shirt, cream golf shorts, tartan red socks and Nike Air Zoom Vapor shoes, he was the image of the professional golfer.   Of the four players he was by far the more accomplished with an impressive handicap of two.  It was his dream that once he retired he could join the Pro circuit.
‘Mmmm,’ murmured Thanatos distractedly looking towards the brown hilly landscape of the Pilansberg in the distance.  He was not an avid golf player but the four had been playing different golf courses every month for as long as he could remember.  With a handicap of sixteen he was almost the weakest player except for Demeter who mostly excused herself to sit in the golf cart for the entire game, complaining of heat exhaustion and dizziness.  Unlike, Cycnus it did not bother him that Khaos won each game and he did not resort to blatant cheating.
‘It’s getting late and this African sun is already so warm,’ Demeter fanned herself extravagantly with the scorecard.  ‘I think I will play caddie today and keep the scorecard.’
‘It’s only 06:30, Demeter; you haven’t played a game for ages,’ teased Khaos, ‘is it a sign of old age perhaps?’
‘Just because I am ten years older than you, Khaos,’ snapped Demeter, ‘it does not mean that I am old.  It is just that I am more sensitive than you and feel the heat.’
‘Now, now,’ interrupted Cycnus as if he was addressing children, ‘lets not spoil our beautiful morning of golf.  I am feeling exceptionally confident today.’  Cycnus had removed his breastplate and sword and carefully stored them in the back of the golf cart.  He was wearing a new bright green striped golf shirt and shorts with a tiny beret perched precariously on top of his flaming red hair.  The outfit was perhaps his way of trying to distract the others from their game.
Shrugging carelessly, Khaos teed up, did a few practice shots and then took his final swing.  The club connected with a clean thwack and the small white ball lifted perfectly into the air, curving slightly to the right and landing about two hundred meters in the middle of the fairway.
‘Nice shot,’ congratulated Thanatos trying desperately to relax and enjoy the game.  Their games had always been a way for them to unwind and forget about work, enjoy the outdoors and each others company for awhile. 
‘Thanks,’ Khaos replaced his club into his bag and turned to stare at Thanatos who was busy teeing up.  ‘Um .. I suggest you remove your coat before you play, Thane.  I don’t think it will improve your game any.’
‘Right,’ said Thanatos quickly removing his long black hooded coat and laying it carefully over his bag before returning to the tee.  ‘I forgot.’
Khaos and Cycnus watched him speculatively, Khaos in concern for his friend and Cycnus in fear of problems untold.  It was obvious to everyone that something was bothering Thanatos, it was not like him to be so distracted.
The game continued amicably and without further mishap until they reached the ninth hole.  Both Khaos and Cycnus were three over par with Thanatos trailing at eight over. This long par five hole stretched out in front of them.  The slightest miss of the island green could mean disaster with the water, rocks and sand guarding it.  Khaos second shot was perfect, landing on the green in a position that would allow a definite birdie.  Much to everyone’s amusement, Thanatos’ ball soared gracefully straight into the water with a sinking plop.  It was the standing joke, if there was water, Thanatos’ ball would find it.  Cycnus on the other hand was not happy when his ball hit rock and bounced backwards into a deep sand bunker.
‘You touched my ball,’ complained Cycnus turning on Khaos abruptly. ‘You know the rule about using your powers.’
‘When did I touch your ball, Cycnus,’ said Khaos calmly, ‘I do not need to resort to using my powers to beat you.’
‘On the fifth, you walked past my ball to get to yours,’ spluttered Cycnus going slightly red in the face.
‘That was on the fifth,’ smirked Khaos, ‘if I had touched your ball then, the effects of Chaos would have taken effect immediately.   I did not touch your ball.’
‘Let’s not argue,’ sighed Thanatos quietly. ‘You can still get on the green from there, Cycnus.’
Glaring at the two of them, Cycnus stomped off towards his ball with Demeter driving behind him.
‘That man is infuriating,’ muttered Khaos heading towards the green where he proceeded to sink his ball for a birdie and followed it with a little victory dance.
Cycnus’ game went from bad to worse after a double bogie on the ninth.  This did not sweeten his steadily rising anger and after another bogie on the fourteenth he threw his putter down onto the ground in a rage.
‘It’s no use getting angry, Cycnus,’ soothed Thanatos walking to the centre of the green. ‘These games are supposed to be fun and relaxing.  You take everything far too seriously.’
‘Too seriously, me?’ Cycnus turned to face Thanatos deciding now was a good time to try coerce some information out of the silent man. ‘If anyone is too serious lately it is you.  You have been very distracted today, Thanatos.  Your golf game is normally bad but never as bad as it is today.  Are you having marriage problems perhaps or maybe your preoccupation has got something to do with the recent sighting.  Khaos was very concerned about you the other night.’
‘Sighting,’ said Thanatos glancing quickly at Khaos and frowning. ‘What sighting?’
‘We all noticed your unusual behaviour on Friday night, Thanatos,’ continued Cycnus sweetly, enjoying Khaos’s obvious discomfort. ‘You have never been late for any of our weekly meetings and you looked very distracted.  The boys also confided in me that you needed to seek advice from Khaos.  Not a wise idea considering the man’s history.  But, then I bumped into Khaos later and he felt it necessary to inform me about the young girl who had apparently seen you and how upset you were about the incident.  According to Khaos this was obviously a mistake on your side as you returned and the girl did not respond again.  I wonder if the perfect Angel of Death is starting to make mistakes.’
Demeter giggled from behind also enjoying Khaos’ embarrassment and Thanatos’ obvious rising anger.
‘I did not make a mistake,’ said Thanatos quietly his eyes darkening and the air around him turning cold creating a faint halo of mist that shimmered around him.
‘But you must have, old boy,’ goaded Cycnus further.  ‘There is no other explanation.  According to Khaos she was not a Mythic of any form as she did not have a blue aura, she was apparently not on your List and she did not see either you or Khaos when you returned.’
 ‘I cannot explain what happened,’ Thanatos’ breath cleared the air around his face long enough to see his eyes turn completely black.  ‘But it was not a mistake.  I do not make mistakes.  She saw me again on my return to collect her father.’
The lush green grass around him had turned white as the icy air spread out in a radius around Thanatos.  The developing mist spreading to the edges of the green shut out the glow of the warm morning sun. 
Khaos in an attempt to diffuse Thanatos’ anger and Cycnus obvious pleasure in the situation leant casually against the small golf cart which suddenly jerked forward and proceeded to careen down the slight hill it had been parked on.
Demeter shrieked in panic her floppy hat flying off and her arms waving wildly, ‘It won’t stop; it won’t stop.’
‘Push the break, you stupid women,’ shouted Cycnus angrily, suddenly disappearing and reappearing in front of the wayward golf cart to stop it before it landed in a large bunker.
Khaos let out a roar of laughter at the sight of the two trying to control the wayward cart.  After eventually managing to apply the break they turned to make their way back to the green.  In the meantime, the mist around Thanatos had slowly evaporated and the frost on the ground melted leaving the grass dead and brown.
‘I’m sorry,’ apologised Khaos quietly. ‘He found me at the pub, I had had too much to drink.  I know that’s not an excuse, but …’
‘It’s ok, Khaos,’ mumbled Thanatos in return.  ‘I would have had to bring it up at the next meeting anyway.’
‘Before Demeter’s odd behaviour,’ said Cycnus eyeing Khaos suspiciously, he began to rattle questions off to Thanatos. ‘You said that she had seen you again?  Are you sure?  Did you have your ring?  Is she on the List?  What do you think she is?’
‘The answer to your many questions, Cycnus,’ replied Thanatos, ‘is yes, yes, of course, no and I have no idea.’
‘She is incredibly beautiful,’ rushed in Khaos trying to ease the atmosphere, ‘she could be an angel.’
‘WHAT,’ shouted Cycnus turning on Khaos abruptly, ‘what do you mean an Angel; she is not one of us.  Is she with the other group Thanatos?’
‘Thanatos would have recognised her if she was one of the other three,’ stammered Demeter sidling up to Cycnus, ‘he attends their meetings as well.’
‘She is not one of the eight,’ replied Thanatos slowly.
‘I just meant she was beautiful, like an angel,’ stuttered Khaos quickly.  ‘I didn’t mean she was an Angel.’  He always seemed to take his size twelve’s and stuff them in his mouth.
‘She is not one of us, is she?’ queried Cycnus suspiciously again.  ‘The other four haven’t been recruiting outside have they?’
‘You know that cannot happen,’ replied Thanatos narrowing his eyes and looking speculatively at Cycnus and Demeter who seemed overly concerned about the matter.  He was the only one that should be concerned as it was he that she had seen.  Somehow, when he was with Khaos she had not acknowledged his presence.  ‘Besides, why would it worry you, Cycnus?  They are the ones short of a rider.’
Just then a golf ball bounced off the top of the golf cart and landed at their feet.  They all turned slowly and saw four men making their way towards the green.   The man in the front called back over his shoulder. ‘I thought this golf course was well looked after?  The grass on this green is dead and someone has just abandoned this golf cart?’
Khaos turned reluctantly to the other three and said, ‘Well, we have taken to long arguing, our game will be disturbed now, we will have to stop.’
The others agreed silently, retrieved their items from the golf cart, said goodbye and evanesced.
A few seconds later Cycnus appeared on the rooftop of the building where he kept a small bachelor pad.   Putting his golf bag down next to the fire escape door, he walked to the edge and looked out over the sprawling city below.  As it was a Sunday the traffic was light, but the sound of the passing vehicles drifted upwards like the sound of waves crashing on a beach.  He took a deep breath of the stale hot air, closed his eyes and mulled over what Thanatos had said earlier.  If she was not one of the eight Angels, who was she?  Was Thanatos mistaken?  Was there a simple explanation?  There were two many questions and this made him very unsettled.   There was no room for error in his plans and he did not like strange happenings so near the end.  He had to make sure everything was alright, he had work to do.  ‘Demeter.’
Demeter appeared on the roof, almost upsetting a trash can on her arrival.
‘You called, my Captain,’ spluttered Demeter out of breath and looking flushed.
‘Yes,’ replied Cycnus.  ‘I am not happy about the sighting of Thanatos.  I need ..’
‘I am sure he just made a mistake,’ interrupted Demeter soothingly.  ‘Her name is probably on the List and he has missed it.’
‘I doubt it,’ snapped Cycnus not enjoying being interrupted. ‘Thanatos is not a fool, he would not make that kind of mistake.’
‘But you said…’ simpered Demeter quickly, twisting her ring around her finger in a nervous habit.
‘I know what I said,’ interrupted Cycnus, ‘I was just trying to get a rise from Thanatos so he would slip up and give me details.’ The woman was incredibly annoying and simple minded.  He wondered how she had ever been chosen as an Angel, her mother before her must have been desperate for a successor or as foolish.  It was a good thing famine was a by product of war and poverty or she would never get anything done.  ‘I need you to check on Gaia for me, make sure she is behaving herself.’
‘Gaia, why her,’ queried Demeter, ‘do you think she has something to do with this?’
‘No, it would be impossible,’ snapped Cycnus, ‘I just want to be reassured that all is well.  We are near the end now so I don’t want any mistakes.  I have work to do or I would do it myself.  Now go.’  He wafted his hand at her as if trying to get rid of a pesky fly.  ‘Report back to me when you return.’
Demeter scurried to the centre of the roof and evanesced, returning home to collect her horse.
Cycnus went in search of Deimos and Enyo, he needed their assistance.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Riders - Missing (Chapter 5 - Death)

Zoe was again curled up in the upright armchair next to her father’s bed.  The nurses had given her a brown hospital blanket and pillow but she did not think she would sleep.  It must have been the early hours of the morning when her eyelids eventually drifted shut.  She was physically and emotionally exhausted, drained after crying and weak from lack of food.  She had barely touched the food Betty had brought her earlier but had managed to finish the hot chocolate.  Betty had wanted her to come home with her but Zoe had refused, wanting to be with her father in case he woke again.
The doctor had, as promised, called her when they had finished conducting various tests.  The results of the test would only be available the next day, so Zoe had curled up in the hard chair and sat watching the monitors around her father.
As she drifted in and out of sleep she wandered what she would do if her father died.  She had no real family as both her fathers parents had died before she was born and he had been an only child.  She therefore had no grandparents, no aunts or uncles and as her father had not re-married she had no brothers or sisters.  She was alone in the world.  She did not know if her mother had any family and if she did if they even knew she existed.
The Defender’s engines roared as it ploughed its way through the rising wave, crashing with a resounding crunch as it descended over the lip of the 20 foot wave.  Wiping the rain lashed window of the cabin did nothing to increase the visibility.  The torrential rain making sea, land and sky merge into one.  The howling wind tore at the surface of the sea, spraying salt water over the deck of the small seine fishing boat battling to reach shelter at Axl Cove.  The cold front and the unpredicted energy from the low had combined to create the gusting 40 to 50 knot northwester.  The intermittent streak of lightening that blinded the sky was the only time land could be distinguished where the waves were hurled mercilessly against the cliff face.  The sea and sky were in a battle of rage, neither wishing to admit defeat.
She battled the wheel her wet hands slipping, shouting for help from her father who stood at the bow of the boat in his yellow all-weather gear.  He appeared to be oblivious of her and the storm surrounding them.  Instead he stood tall and strong gazing into the distance at something she could not see.  Releasing the battle with the wheel she pushed at the cabin door which was suddenly whipped from her hands and crashed against the side of the boat.  She clung desperately to the rail fearing she would be blown or washed overboard into the freezing, black sea.  She shouted again but the words were chopped off abruptly and whisked away into the water drenched air.   Not daring to venture further she clung to the railing, her jeans and t-shirt plastered against her body and her black hair flat against her head, she searched the horizon.
A flash of light rent the air and the image of black, rugged cliffs and a lone figure standing looking out to sea was burnt on her retina.  She blinked, wiping the stinging salt from her eyes.  The black silhouette was familiar; but what man, creature would brave this battle of the forces.  No man, child or beast should be wandering the cliff face in this weather.  She looked back towards the bow and her father, but he was gone.  She screamed.
‘Miss Alexander, Zoe,’ an urgent voice sounded in her ear. ‘Wake up, dear, you are dreaming.’
Zoe sat up suddenly, heart racing, eyes open wide and looked around frantically.  There was no black storm or fishing boat, no ragged cliff or lonely figure, just the pale grey morning sky and her father resting peacefully in the hospital bed.  Zoe looked at the young nurse standing next to her, concern and sympathy shining in her eyes. ‘I’m so sorry,’ said Zoe. ‘I must have fallen asleep.  I’m fine now, thank you.’
‘Your father is resting peacefully,’ replied the nurse. ‘Why don’t you freshen up and get something to eat.
Zoe nodded absently and moved her chair closer to her father’s bed, picked up his hand squeezing gently.  There was no sign of turmoil or unrest and the heart monitor continued to beep at an even pace.  It was her heart that still raced with the after effects of her dream.  A dream she had had before, many years ago as a child; a dream of a dark figure standing on the cliff and her father disappearing into the sea.  As a child her father would have woken her gently and soothed her until she fell asleep again, but not today. 
Her father had told her the story about the day he had found her mother at Axl Cove many times.  He had explained that the weather had not been as dramatic as in her dream, nor had he been that heroic, but this is not what other fisherman had remembered.  The stories they told about the day of the Big Storm had always horrified her and this was the storm she had dreamt about as a child.  Her father’s disappearance into the sea was when he had leapt into the huge surge and swum towards the rocky cliff to rescue a young damsel in distress.  But in her dreams he was lost to the depth of the ocean and the damsel was whisked away in a cloud of red smoke.
Shaking her head in an attempt to rid herself of the feeling of unease, she stood up slowly and made her way out the ICU and down the passage to the cloakroom to freshen up.  Splashing icy cold water on her face took away the remnant feeling of salt on her skin and cleared her head of her nightmare.
Grabbing a cup of coffee from the machine in the waiting room, she slowly returned to her father.
‘Dad,’ exclaimed Zoe happily. ‘You’re awake.
Alex gazed at his daughter lovingly, seeing the tired worried look in her eyes.  He held out his hand and she rushed to sit next to him and held his hand to her face.
‘You shouldn’t have been lifting those heavy crates,’ she reprimanded softly, blinking rapidly to get rid of the unshed tears welling up again.
‘I’m sorry, my child,’ whispered Alex weakly. ‘I did not mean to scare you so.’
‘It’s fine,’ rushed Zoe. ‘But from now on you are going to take things easier.  Simon can do all the heavy work and you can relax a little bit.  I will make you healthy meals, not too much red meat and lots of vegetables and we can go for walks along the beach for exercise.  You watch you will never feel as healthy.’
‘I always feel wonderful when you are by my side, angel,’ acknowledged Alex slowly.
‘Well, I am not going to be going anywhere,’ replied Zoe earnestly.  ‘Betty came to visit and she says everyone sends their love and I was told to remind you about the quiz evening next Saturday.’
Alex smiled slightly and closed his eyes.
‘Dad,’ started Zoe worriedly.
‘It’s ok,’ replied Alex gently, opening his eyes again. ‘Just resting.’
‘Mr Alexander, I am very happy to see you awake,’ said Dr Marshall entering and walking to the side of the bed.  ‘Your daughter has been keeping a vigilant eye on you during the night.  You have had us all concerned.  How are you feeling?’
‘I feel like a pin cushion with all these needles and tubes in me,’ smiled Alex.
‘Well once we have all your results back from the lab, we might be able to rectify that,’ replied the doctor bending over to do a quick examination of his patient. 
Happy with the result he informed Alex that the nurse would be in shortly to change his drip and instructed him not to tire himself out.  Smiling gently at Zoe he turned and left.
‘You would make an excellent doctor,’ commented Alex to his daughter.  ‘You have always been so good with the injured and sick.’
‘Oh no,’ replied Zoe. ‘I think it would upset me to much and besides I enjoy my job as a carer.  It gives me more time to be with you.’
‘I am an old man,’ sighed Alex.  ‘You need to be with people your own age.  Simon and you have been friends since you with babies.’
‘You are not old,’ denied Zoe quickly. ‘And are you trying to find me a husband or something?  Anyway, Simon is like an annoying little brother, nothing more.’
Alex sighed sadly again.  He felt that he was not going to be able to keep his promise to her mother.  Before she had gone she had asked that he protect Zoe and ensure that she became everything that she could.  But just like her mother she was very headstrong and did not listen to an old man like him.  His time was short and he knew it was time for her to learn the truth about her mother.  A truth that was very difficult to explain and even more difficult to believe. 
He shivered, feeling a coldness drift across the bed.  He opened his eyes and looked at the dark man standing behind his daughter.  His arm extended towards him sporting a familiar looking thick gold ring on his bony finger.
‘Wait,’ he gasped in recognition. ‘I must explain.’
‘What,’ said Zoe in concern unaware of the presence behind her.  ‘What is wrong, what do you need to explain?’
‘The chest,’ he gasped frantically. ‘In the chest.’
‘Doctor, doctor,’ shouted Zoe standing up quickly and running out in search of the doctor who had just left. ‘My dad is complaining about his chest, please come.’
The doctor quickly rushed past Zoe and on entering noticed that the heart monitor had stopped its rhythmic beeping.  Calling for assistance he proceeded to commence CPR.
Zoe rushed in after the nurses to find the doctor and the nurses working on her father, and sitting in the chair that she had just vacated and holding his hand was the man in black.  With the black hood of his jacket hanging down his back, his white blond hair shone angelic like in the bright hospital light.  His black eyes appearing hollow in his gaunt face and in stark contrast to his pale translucent skin
‘What’s happening,’ cried Zoe frantically. ‘Dad, please.’
Another nurse entered and gentle guided Zoe away from the scene of frantic hands and loud machines.  Who was that man, was he a specialist?  Dr Marshall had not mentioned any other specialist.  Zoe’s heart pounded in her ears, she felt faint and wanted to be sick.  Her father had been fine, he had been talking to her, then it had all changed and he had said his chest hurt.  No, he had said it was in the chest.  Confused and frantic Zoe fainted.
The fluorescent lights circled above her head and the walls and roof expanded and swayed.  Feeling very disorientated, she found herself lying on her back on a hospital bed with a concerned nurse hovering nearby.
She sat up quickly causing the room to sway even more and her head to pound in pain.  ‘Where is my dad,’ moaned Zoe holding her head and looking frantically around.  She had been put on a spare bed at the end of the ICU but she could still hear the monotonous single beep of her fathers monitor.  Then her father appeared from behind the screen dressed in his hospital gown and smiling.  Following closely behind him was the tall, thin man dressed in black.
‘Dad,’ shouted Zoe trying to get off the bed. ‘Where are you taking my father?’
Her father continued to walk down the passage oblivious to her call, but the man in the long black coat turned and looked directly at her.
Zoe stopped halfway down the ward, looking into his puzzled eyes.  Unlike before, his eyes now appeared to be a dark blue in his angular pale face.  ‘Where are you taking my dad,’ she asked softly.
The man frowned slightly and turned his head slowly to look at her father walking down the passage.  With the movement of his head her eyes were drawn to the thin black tattoo now visible on the side of his neck.  The long black handle with curved blade projecting from the left side stood out stark and symbolic against his pale skin.  Blackness enveloped her and she sank to the floor.