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Taken from Sands of Time

 

 Amanda loved travelling alone.  She always had.  Where her friends craved companionship and mutual support even on the shortest journey she did all in her power to avoid the hustle and endless chatter which was the inevitable result of someone else going along.  She ducked and lurked on railway platforms; she studied shop windows with elaborate care as people she knew walked by, all for the sake of that blissful moment when the doors closed, the train drew away and she felt her spirit fly.  She was not a woman who took a mobile phone wherever she went!

It was not that she was unsociable.  Far from it.  She loved people, enjoyed their company,  adored her job as an advertising executive and threw parties and cooked meals at the drop of a hat.  But travelling - and, at the end of the day, living - was something she felt she had to experience so absolutely fully that it had to be done alone.

Sex of course cannot be done alone.  Well, it can, but Amanda was not a solitary player in that field.  She had a lovely, attentive, understanding man who knew the rules of her particular life plan and was happy to abide by them.  She knew he had another life. He worked in the City and it was unlikely he did not find solace there  when she was away. and sometimes that knowledge saddened her.  But she could expect nothing else, nothing more.  If she wanted her private secret side, so would he.

Thus it was that he had gone with her to the airport when she had set off on her trip to Canada, joined her in a coffee after she had checked in, chatted amiably about her journey and waved her off with, had she turned to see, only the slightest touch of wistfulness in his smile.

Amanda settled into her seat in delight.  She had a new paperback to read, a guide  book to Canada and a new spiral-back notebook - the latter because, although she didn’t realise it, Amanda was a writer.  When she was born, amongst the  thousands of genes she inherited from her parents was the writing gene.  She had never actually manifested a desire to  be a   travel writer or a novelist or a poet.  She had never attended writers’ circles or author talks at Waterstones,  nor had she ever kept a diary  as such.  But, and it has to be admitted this was done almost surreptitiously, some might say even secretly, she wrote all the time.  She called them  her snippets.  Things she had done.  Things she had seen.  Things she had thought.  And people.  This was the real reason she liked to avoid  people she knew  on her travels.  They distracted her from the people she didn’t know.  And from the  endless stories which swirled in her head as character after character passed in front of her for her delectation.

Only this morning on the train to the airport it had happened.  Admittedly Derek had been there with her, but buried in his Financial Times  he had seen  nothing and been no distraction.  The scenario which caught her attention had been so small no one else had see  it, or if they had, they had ignored it.  The woman sitting  opposite them was pale and drawn, her eyes sunken and miserable. Covertly Amanda studied her face.  She was, she could be, incredibly beautiful beneath the ugly baseball cap which had been pulled down to cover her hair.  As she sat, staring into space, her mobile phone rang.  The opening bars of the William Tell overture (presumably chosen as  ringing tone in more optimistic mood)  rang out with increasing urgency and volume in the quiet carriage.  At first the woman ignored it, pretending it had nothing to do with her, then as its insistence grew more obtrusive she pounced on her bag, rummaged , found the phone and, instead of switching it off , wrapped it in her scarf and buried it at the bottom of the bag. Rossini’s electronic masterpiece diminuendoed  to an angry  and still audible  squeak.  When at last it stopped the woman delved back into her bag, retrieved her phone , punched in a short number and returned it to its place. Two angry spots of colour had flared over her cheek bones.  At the next stop she got off, leaving Amanda agog with curiosity.  Presumably the number she had put into the phone would block the call from that person?  But why not switch off the phone? And if not switch it off, who was it whose call she was hoping for? Who? What? Where?

As she settled into the seat of the 767;  peering down over the dull panorama of West London, she reached automatically for her note book.

Unless you have had a chance to study them in the departure lounge before you leave it is hard to get an overview of your  fellow passengers on a plane.  The one sitting next to you is of crucial importance - particularly if their personal habits are unpleasant or if they turn out to be an Olympic talker  Or if they are under the age of  reasonable  restraint.  The rest are only glimpsed in tiny cameos if they stand up or move about or as they sit in serried ranks facing you as you pick your way to the loo, making the most of every second of blessed freedom before slotting yourself carefully back into place.

Amanda on this the longest flight she had as yet made, unbelievably, grew bored.  It was not as though she had a holiday to look forward to.  The journey would end in a series of meetings.  And tricky ones she was fronting for her cowardly boss.  She was tired of the view of the seat in front.  She could not see the screen  with the film - which at any rate seemed to be about delinquent baseball players - not her favourite subject.  She ate.  She slept. She read.  She studied cloud formations and she looked down at the beauty of the deep blue crepe which stretched on every side far below as they flew west over the Atlantic Ocean.

Her somnolent boredom was interrupted by the pilot.  ‘Ladies and gentlemen we are just flying in across the coast of Labrador.  It might interest you tok now the temperature down there now is -28 degrees.’

Amanda’s eyes flew open  she leaned towards the window and  peered down.  The endless shining blue had disappeared.  Far, far below the sea was grey and white and broken with ice and rock.  Very soon there was no sea at all.  All was ice.  She shivered despite the fact that the temperature  in the cabin  must have been approaching  +28 degrees. The emptiness , the bleakness, the purity and wildness of that endless landscape was breathtakingly beautiful.

Across the aisle Amanda’s neighbour stood up, stretching.  Unnoticed by her he had been studying her on and off from behind his  newspaper. He cleared his throat and hovered.  ‘Excuse me.’

She did not hear him.  She was totally absorbed in the landscape below.

Smiling, he turned back to his seat nodding to himself.  She was in a world of her own.  The perfect place to be.

The plane was lower now.  If there had been people there to see, she would have seen them as small black dots, indistinguishable from the stumps of felled trees or, she thought suddenly, bears.   She craned closer to the window.  She could see a road now, dead straight, cutting like a ruler across the landscape below.  Lower and she could see that there was only one car in that whole desolate scene and near it she could see two small specks moving away from it .  Who? Why?  Where? The familiar mantra echoed in her brain.  They were too far apart to be together and yet in that whole vast landscape how could they be separate?

In the seat across the gangway Amanda’s neighbour glanced towards her seat and frowned.  He hadn’t seen her get up and leave her place.  He turned , craning towards the back of the plane.  No sign. Smiling, he faced front once more, wondering where she had gone and how long she would be.

The bite of the cold air and the crunch of snow beneath her feet, was so sudden,  the moan of the wind so desolate, she was for a moment incapable of reacting.  Near her she could see the woman.  She was wearing a fur-trimmed parka and thick trousers but her gloves were gone, her hands like her face, chapped and raw.  ‘Help me!’ Her breath was coming in tight raw gasps.

‘What is it? What’s happened?’ Amanda could feel the ice riming her eyelashes.  The wind tore the words  from her lips.

‘He’s going to kill me!’ The woman looked over her shoulder and following her gaze Amanda saw a figure in the distance labouring through the snow.

‘Help me!’

There was nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide, just one chance as the wind whipped the top coat of snow from the road like spume from the sea.  ‘Down here - maybe we can hide in the snow.’  She caught the woman’s arm and pushed her down into a drift at the side of the road.  A few frantic scoops and she was hidden.

No time to hide herself.  Trembling she turned to face him; saw the angry, blotched features, the snarling mouth, the hair whipped free of his hood, beaded with ice.  There was a gun in his gloved hand.

‘Where are you Mary-Anne?’

He ran towards Amanda without seeing her. ‘All I asked was that you loved me!’ She could see the tears freezing on his cheeks, hear the despair in his voice.  ‘Was that too much to ask?’  He staggered to a stop, staring round the empty landscape, still not seeing Amanda.  His lungs were heaving, his sobs coming in raw anguished gulps.  Suddenly hurling the gun out into the whirling  whiteness he collapsed onto his knees.

Beside her there was a flurry of snow.  ‘Andy!’ The woman was clawing her way back towards him.  ‘Andy, I’m sorry.  I love you.  I love you!’

He was holding out his arms.  They were both crying now.  The wind grew stronger.  Behind them the car was out of sight.

‘Go back! Get in the car!’ Amanda pleaded.  She squinted through narrowed eyes up at the sky.  Was that her plane up there, silver against the billowing snow cloud.  Panic knifed through her stomach.  The couple were staggering up the road into the wind away from her.  In a  moment they would be out of sight and she would be alone.  ‘Wait!’ her voice was torn to shreds by the wind and spun away to nothing.  ‘Wait - ‘

She couldn’t breathe.  The air was hot.  Stale.  Her outflung hand caught against the window next to her ear.   She had been asleep.  Dreaming! Disorientated she pulled herself to her feet and clambered over the empty seat next to her, intent on finding the loo.  It may have been a dream,  an imaginary interlude, but her hands and face were chapped and frozen, her breath still rasping in her chest.

The man across the aisle smiled.  ‘So, where did you get to then?’

She stared at him, puzzled.

‘Looks as though you popped out for a breath of air.’  He was looking at her feet. 

Following his gaze she gasped.  Her shoes were wet with melting snow.  Snags of ice clung to the bottom of her trousers.

Looking up she met his eyes  and he saw the first dawning hints of fear. ‘Go and freshen up,’ he said.  ‘I’ll order you a drink’

When she came back to her seat he had ordered her a whisky and ginger but he did not move to the seat next to her.  Instead he leaned across the aisle.  ‘OK?’ His smiled was gentle. Unthreatening.

‘What happened to me?’ Her hands had begun to shake.

He shrugged. ‘A dream?  Out of body experience? Lucid trance? Writing your own script?’ He nodded at her book of snippets still lying open on the seat beside her, the pen cradled against the wire spiral at its centre.

‘You make it sound quite normal!’

‘Who is to say it isn’t?’

‘It’s never happened to me before.’  She was still very shaken.

‘Perhaps only in your dreams.’

She took a sip from her glass, feeling the bite of warmth through her veins and looked at him properly for the first time.  She had sensed him trying to catch her eye earlier.  Had seen he was about her own age -     good-looking - had assumed he was trying to pick her up.  Now she saw he was older than she had thought and she sensed genuine interest, kindness, in his glance.

‘Was I really not here.  Out of my seat?’ She glanced down at her still-damp shoes.

He nodded.

‘I don’t want it to happen again.’

‘I’m not sure you can stop it.’ He frowned.  ‘There are things you can do to help.  I could write down the titles of some books for you to read.’

‘How come you know so much about it?’

‘I lecture on these things.’ He smiled.  ‘I’m giving a talk in Toronto on parapsychology.’

‘What a coincidence.’ She took another sip of the drink then a thought struck her.  She turned in her seat and stared at him.  ‘It is a coincidence, isn’t it? You didn’t beam me down there or something.’

He laughed. ‘If only  such things were possible, my dear.’

‘And those people in the snow.  Did that really happen?’

He shrugged. ‘What people? What snow?’

She slumped back against her seat, defeated.

There was a moment’s silence then he leant across towards her again, raising his voice slightly against the roar of the engines.  ‘The snow was real.  I saw it.’

‘So I’m not going mad?’

He shook his head.  ‘Never worry about that.  You have a talent - perhaps ability is a better word - cultivate it if you dare.  It could be exciting.’

‘No one will ever believe me.’

‘No.  But you’re a writer.  Write about it.  Tell the story. Let those who want to,  believe. The others can read and enjoy and maybe even wonder.’

He had been looking at her notebook.  She picked it up thoughtfully.  He had assumed she was a writer and it was true.  After all, she spent every spare  second of her life writing. She would talk it over with Derek.  Tell him what had happened.  No, he would never believe her.  Her unknown friend was right.  If she was to write her snippet at all for general consumption  it would have to be as fiction.  As a dream in a magazine article perhaps.  Or maybe as a novel?  Already without realising she had done it, she had picked up her pen.

But deep inside her something had changed.  Without knowing it  she has become afraid of travelling alone. Her relationship with Derek when she gets home will be closer, more dependent. When he asks her to marry him in six months time she will say yes.

Across the aisle Jack Kennedy smiled.  He too had reached for his notebook.  His was electronic.  

Case 128:  Subject’s name: Amanda  Jones. He had seen her name on the label of her cabin bag.  Estimated sensitivity: 7/10.  Actual: 10/10 . Verifiable facts:  Maybe corroboration from  two  people on road?  Check date and location. He smiled quietly.

He had learned from experience to provide aftercare for his guinea pigs.  Whisky and ginger for those visiting the snowy wastes.  Iced gin and lime for those who landed in the Sahara.  Chilblain cures or sunburn.  And of course a signed copy of his own book on trans and bi-location with an e-mail address, where they could reach him with news of life/career changes resulting from their experience and for advice  when it happened again -  as it always did&ldots;

Of course there was always a risk.  Always the possibility one day one of them would fail to return to their seat near his on the aircraft. That would be interesting.  Probably unfortunate.  Definitely worth an appendix on its own in his next book.  A snippet.  He smiled as he thought of the word scrawled across the cover of her notebook.  It was funny how he often picked writers in his otherwise random selection of victims.  Two novelists, a travel writer and four journalists to date. All travelling alone.

As he filled in the last detail and closed down his computer he lay back in his seat.  Across the way Amanda was writing hard.  He smiled thoughtfully.  Perhaps he should ensure his next subject - no 129 - did  stay down there.  His return flight to London in three days’ time might be an ideal opportunity.  Imagine the furore when they found a passenger  had disappeared.  Imagine the puzzlement.  Imagine the sense of power as he selected someone who this time would be the victim of the perfect crime.  Because, even if it was in the name of science,  it would be murder.    There was  no doubt at all about that.

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