VISIONS (IN MY MINDS EYE)
A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES
BY ARTHUR HOWE
Copyright ARTHUR HOWE 2014
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THE PICK UP
FREE EARTH DAY
VISIONS - IN MY MINDS EYE
You never can be too careful when it comes to hitchhiking. Paranoia could take control!
I wouldn’t normally stop to pick up a hitchhiker even though, as a teenager, this was just about my only mode of transport. My road to independence.
My Folks didn’t have a car, not that they couldn’t afford one, it was just that my Mom was too nervous to drive and my Dad had always preferred to take public transport or taxi’s to get around. I also think he was too proud to admit that he was also nervous. I’ve also become very nervous lately, particularly when you hear of all the car-jacking and murders that happen just about every day, here in South Africa. You never can be too careful, I say. I’d lost a friend to a car-jacking in Johannesburg and had heard numerous stories from friends of friends who’d had similar experiences.
Things had changed so much in this Country, I thought. As a kid, if I needed to get somewhere, I either cadged a lift from someone whose parents had wheels or I’d hit the road with my thumb wagging.
I’d taken hundreds of short hitches getting in and around the suburbs of Cape Town and on two occasions, even been adventurous enough to hitch hike from Cape Town to Johannesburg and Cape Town to Durban and back. In those days, it was fairly safe to hitchhike and we thought nothing of it.
Around Cape Town, I’d mostly hitchhike with my surfboard tucked under my arm, as I’d found that people tended to stop for surfers more than just some luggage-less stranger on the side of the road. It was as if people believed surfers didn’t have the time for psychotic thoughts, and that robbers, serial killers, and rapists didn’t spend their time chasing waves.
Maybe it was that image, somewhere deep in my subconscious mind. The image of me standing there, surfboard tucked under my arm, desperately waiting for a lift, that made me slow down and stop for the tall, well dressed man who’d shown me the thumb as I came around a bend in the N2 highway headed towards my mid-week retreat in Bot River.
As I drove past him, and before consciously deciding to give him a lift, I caught the flash of something tucked under his arm. A book maybe?, A Bible?, I thought as I sped past him. Maybe that’s his Surfboard, I thought, smiling to myself.
The object was about the size of a small shoebox, maybe six inches wide and twelve inches long, a little flatter than a shoebox but roughly the same shape. The noticeable thing about it was its colour which came from being wrapped in some matt black paper that showed small, parallel, shiny spots where the sticky tape held it together.
Whatever was in that black, shoebox sized parcel tucked under his arm, it triggered my curiosity, and I hit the brakes and turned onto the gravel shoulder, a cloud of red dust overtaking me as I stopped for my hitchhiker.
I looked back in the rear-view mirror and saw that he had started walking slowly towards the car, black package gripped tightly under his arm.
I almost put the car into gear and sped off again as a wave of fear hit me. What are you doing? I asked myself. Stopping for a complete stranger with some suspicious looking package under his arm? It could contain a gun or a knife, or the tools of his trade as an axe-murderer or body mutilator, I thought in another panic attack.
I was about to slip the handbrake and speed off when I glanced over my left shoulder and saw that he’d disappeared from view. Maybe he’d taken another ride or just slipped away quietly into the bushes?
A sharp rap on my driver’s window made me jump in my seat.
He stooped to the window level where I could see his almost toothless mouth miming off words without sounds. I dropped the window a few inches. He was well dressed, I must admit with his black suit and neatly folded handkerchief in his top pocket.
Almost like he’d come from a wedding I thought.
And big! I estimated that he must be at least six and a half foot as he had to almost bend double to look into the car. I must say that in my 53 years, I haven’t seen too many Black South Africans of that size.
“Good morning Sir,” he said smiling. A good start I thought. I always liked manners in men and his regal greeting allowed me to drop the window another few inches.
“May I ask how far you’re going Sir?” he continued, still smiling his patchy, broken-toothed smile. I could smell his breath coming in through the window and I half turned away from the musty, almost compost like smells that were wafting in to the car.
“I’m going as far as exit 92, the Bot River turn off,” I replied.
“ I don’t mind that at all Sir,” he said brightly and darted, most deliberately around the front of the car and before you could say “Mary Martha”, he was seated next to me in the passenger seat, the Black shoebox now perched proudly on his lap.
I think that if he’d gone round the back of the car, I might have slipped the hand brake and floored the accelerator and got out of there pretty damn quickly.
It was the “Yes-No’s” that were making me nervous. I hated indecision and people who pussyfooted around. I saw black and I saw white. I saw full or I saw empty. I hated anything in between. As someone once said to me, you either push or you pull, you never mess around in between.
And here I was, messing around in between.
Yes, I stopped.
No, he has a black box and might use whatever’s inside it to kill me, or worse.
Yes, he’s smartly dressed.
No, he’s coming towards the car.
Yes, he’s gone and run off into the bush.
No, He’s at the window.
Yes, he greeted me nicely.
No, his breath smelled like something had crawled in there and died.
Whatever happened now, it had to be positive; I’d offered a lift, he’d accepted and had firmly planted himself in the passenger seat next to me. Now all I had to do was get him to where he needed to be, drop him off, and remember never to pick up hitchhikers ever again.
I heard his seatbelt click into place.
“How far are you going?” I asked as I pulled away from the gravel onto the tarmac.
“As far as Sir would like to go”. He replied, looking straight ahead and gripping tightly onto the black box, now neatly tucked inside the seatbelt straps. Obviously, whatever was inside his box was fragile and he didn’t want a sudden jerk or swerve to send it flying onto the floor.
That made me feel a little more comfortable, after all, what could be so fragile that could also be used as a murder weapon? I thought to myself, smiling somewhat nervously.
That’s it! A bottle.
A bottle of poison maybe, or ……. acid?
Yes, sulphuric acid to throw in my eyes and blind me whilst he tied me down and poured the rest slowly into every orifice in my body. When he’d used up my orifices, he’d probably use the acid to carve out a new one! My God! That’s exactly what he’s got, I thought, looking ahead to see if there were any other motorists pulled over on the side of the road who could help me get away from this maniac.
It could also be chloroform? I panicked. Yes, as I stop the car he’ll turn his back towards me and soak his neatly folded white hanky with the stuff and then, using his sheer size, hold me down with the hanky over my nose until I lost consciousness!
What he’d do next wouldn’t bother me if I was unconscious but I had this feeling that he’d bring me round and I’d find myself tied to some farm gate or fence as he slowly and carefully peeled the skin off my entire body!
Oh my God!, what have I got myself into this time?
“Would Sir mind if I rested a while. I haven’t really slept these last few days Sir, what with everything that’s been going on Sir.” He interrupted my thoughts.
“If Sir wouldn’t mind nudging me about ten minutes before your turn off, I’d appreciate that Sir.” He continued before reaching out for the lever and reclining the seat to the maximum. His hand rested firmly on top of the black box.
I felt really uncomfortable now, specially as his head was out of my line of sight, behind my back. I glanced back at the hitchhiker to find his eyes wide open and staring at me.
“Sir would do better to keep his eyes on the road Sir would,” he said quietly. “Nasty accidents can happen like that. Before you know it, you’re lying dead on the side of the road, all for the sake of taking your eyes off the road for no more than a second.” He said firmly.
“My Uncle Sipho went that way, he did. Travelling in his pick up from Caledon to Cape Town and he just took his eyes off the road for a second. Next thing, he’s being ground into mince underneath a big logging truck and trailer. Yes Sir, a split second is all it takes to snuff the life out of you.”
My eyes locked onto the road in front of the car as I sat frozen with fear trying to interpret and understand what he’d just said to me. “A split second to snuff the life out of me!” He was obviously trying to get me to stop looking at him so that he could get to work inside that little black box of his, uncovering whatever it was he was going to use to “Snuff the life out of me!”
Maybe he was studying the back of my head or my neck, looking for the perfect pressure points to immobilise me before doing his dirty deeds?
I could feel his eyes burning into the back of my neck, smell his breath as he salivated, deep in thought over the brief moments of sadistic pleasure he was soon to experience.
Maybe it’s a syringe? A glass phial of some potent anaesthetic, which would leave me conscious but unable to move or scream out for help!
I glanced back at my most unwelcome passenger only to see that he had indeed closed his eyes and his mouth hung open, expelling a foul, shit like odour.
Maybe he’s bluffing, I thought. Maybe he’s just trying me out to see what I’m going to do now that I’ve worked out his well-thought-out plan.
I decided to test him and reached slowly down between my legs to the floor of the car.
My hand reached back, searching.
I always kept a couple of tools in my car ever since I found myself stranded on the side of the road late one night, only needing one small screwdriver to tighten a hose that had leaked all of the water out of my radiator.
They were there somewhere, I thought to myself, chin now touching the steering wheel and hand stretched far back under my seat in my desperate effort to secure the only chance of survival.
“Looking for this Sir, are we?” boomed the voice right next to my ear. He was holding the familiar soft plastic case containing the set of four screwdrivers I’d bought just for this sort of emergency.
“Yes, yes thank you,” I said reaching out to grab the case.
He snatched it back towards his chest.
“Now Sir, Sir must make me a promise before I give Sir his tools, Sir Must,” he said teasingly.
“Sir must promise to drive carefully and not to take his eyes off the road or to be doing anything he might regret doing later, Sir,” he said, holding the screwdriver set just out of my reach.
“Yes, yes, I’m sorry. It’s just that I knew I had that set somewhere and you never know when you might need them in an emergency” I proffered.
“So long as Sir’s not thinking of doing anything silly with them that’s OK,” he said pushing the plastic case firmly into my left hand.
“Yes Sir, my Uncle Sipho always said that people worry about picking up a Hitchhiker but no one tells us hitchhikers to worry about the drivers now, do they Sir? We have to be very careful you know. If you read about those Yorkshire rippers and Bundy’s and the likes, you’ll see, it’s us hitchhikers who’s the ones that ought to be careful who we take lifts with.”
I heard the lever on his seat put him back into the reclining position. I was sure he was watching my every move now, just to be sure that I’d be keeping my promises.
I shuffled the screwdriver set over into the side pocket of my door and put both hands on the steering wheel. I wanted him to feel that I was satisfied in finding it and then putting it to rest.
By leaning forward slightly, I could move my head enough to get his face into my rear-view mirror.
Satisfied that he had indeed nodded off, I slowly used my right hand to open the soft plastic case containing the screwdrivers. The one I needed was the largest one, in the far right pocket. It was about ten inches in length with a carefully machined “star” blackened into it’s tip. “Chrome Vanadium,” was clearly marked on the label, and the Salesman had assured me they’d last me a lifetime. I slipped it out and then under my right leg, ready to grab it when I needed it.
The 40km to Bot River sign passed and I quickly worked out that I had another twenty minutes or so before this madman pounced. If I was to survive, I needed to have everything planned, needed to be one step ahead of my Hitchhiker.
I ran it through in my mind, working everything out down to the last second. The element of surprise had to be in my favour, not his. There he was, pretending to sleep in the passenger seat, smiling his rotting, toothless grin, thinking that he’d found yet another unsuspecting victim. Little did he know that I had worked out his evil little plan!
A short time later, the 20 km sign popped up and I was about to nudge my wannabe attacker when his voiced croaked, “ Well Sir, I reckon that’s about ten minutes now before you’d be dropping me then. If you could just pull into the picnic spot just before your turnoff, I’ll be getting me a lift easier from there.”
Again, I froze, my hands gripping the wheel so hard that I’m sure my attacker must have seen my whitening knuckle’s. I eased my grip and told myself to be calm and to be totally unpredictable. Catch him off guard.
I looked left and noticed that he was still reclined in the seat. Then I heard the paper.
The box was wrapped in black paper and I found myself wondering what sort of person goes into a shop and buys black wrapping paper? What sort of sick person actually goes out of is way to buy such a thing? A Madman! A sick perverted, psychotic Madman, that’s who! A man so bent on fulfilling his dirtiest, wildest perversions that he has to have everything just right, even down to the morbid black wrapping paper to cover his butcher’s toolbox!
I had to think quickly now. Time was ticking away and the final confrontation was minutes away.
I could hear the paper rustling and this just made me even tenser.
O.K. now calm down, I told myself.
This is how it’s going to go.
He’s obviously going to open the door – the space in the front of the car is not enough for a man of his size to move around in.
He’ll have his back to me as he fumbles with his acid/chloroform/anaesthetic/poison, getting ready to turn around and pin me down, posing me for his stunning, immobilising shots.
That’s when I’d have to strike. As his back is arched, I’d reach under my leg, grab the screwdriver, and pull my hand back as far as possible. Thrust forward, hard and deep, aiming for two feet beyond to make sure it goes in deep enough. Hit hard, just below the left shoulder blade, pushing through the lungs and piercing his heart. Pull it out. Stab it back in, this time a few inches lower, just in case. At this stage, he’ll probably fall backwards into the car. Strike again, only this time plunging the screwdriver deep into the centre of his chest, just below the rib cage. That should finish him off, once and for all!
“I couldn’t help but notice Sir looking here at my box.” He chirped, interrupting my foolproof plan.
“Sir probably wants to know what I have here in this box doesn’t Sir now?” he asked.
“No, no, really, what’s yours, is your business” I replied, thinking that he was getting some sort of sadistic pleasure out of his teasing and torturing. Have your fun and games whilst you think you’re one step ahead of me, I thought. I’ll just dig a little deeper with the Chrome Vanadium tipped screwdriver when it comes to my turn to show you who’s on top of this situation!
“Sir’ll remember my telling him about my Uncle Sipho, does Sir?” he asked.
Oh God, not another lecture about keeping my hands on the wheel? Humour him, I thought. He thinks that I’m the one with a few minutes left to live. Think again, Shitbreath!
“Well Sir, when my Uncle Sipho died, that was about two years ago Sir, and at that time, we had barely enough money in the family to cover the cost of getting his wreck towed away and, being of lowly farming stock Sir, we were not in a position to pay the undertakers up front.
Now, my Uncle Sipho loved this land and had worked it from a boy until he died at the young age of 59, Sir.” He waffled.
“Well Sir, now Uncle Sipho always said he’d want his mortal remains to lie on the land, there on the farm in Caledon, but not having the money and all, the best we could do was to ask the undertakers to hang onto him until we could afford to bring him back, Sir. But Sir will know, the cost of keeping the body there at the morgue would mean we’d never pay off the debt and so I had no other choice Sir.”
So, the motive is robbery, I thought. Kill and rob the victims for the sole purpose of paying off Sipho’s Undertakers so that they could get his body back to Caledon! My God, what a reason to die!
I noticed at this time that my hitchhiker had lifted the corner of the lid on his box and had his hand inside, ready to strike with whatever weapon he’d chosen for this evil deed.
The lay-by came into view and I struggled between keeping my eye on the road, my right hand on the screwdriver and my mind on my plan to strike first. He wasn’t going to give me that opportunity and was already poised, hand on weapon, ready to strike as soon as the car ground to a halt.
I slowed down to turn into the lay-by, hand ready, ready to strike.
The car had almost stopped and I gripped the screwdriver until it hurt.
The car stopped and I lunged forward, bringing the screwdriver round in an arc that met resistance only when the handle hit up against the bone of his temple.
His eyes went glassy and he looked at me questioningly, not sure quite what had just happened.
His hand was coming out of the box now and I yanked the screwdriver out, swung it back, this time, plunging it to the hilt in his neck, just above the collarbone.
“I think my Uncle Sipho was right Sir, you have to be very careful who you take a lift with now don’t you Sir?” he gurgled through the blood now dripping from his mouth as his eyes finally glassed over and the light went out of them.
The hitchhikers hand had popped out of the box and I finally un-tensed enough to look down to see what evil weapon would have been my undoing had I not seen through his cunning little plan.
The hand was opening slowly as the life ebbed out of his muscles and, like coarse sea salt, I watched as the grey, cremated remains of Uncle Sipho, poured through the hitchhikers fingers onto the centre console of the car.
Perry knew that there was something special about numbers.
From a very early age he realised that there was nothing on this earth or even outside of it, that was random. Every number was significant and a very important part of a bigger picture.
Perry believed in God. He believed that not only was He the ultimate protector, but that He was the ultimate mathematician. One just had to look at nature to see how He had worked it all out, right down to the moon and the tides, the number of petals on a flower, or even the dates on which you were concieved, born and ultimately died.
Perry believed in fate. He believed that there were certain things that happened because they were destined to happen. That’s the way God wanted them to be, he reasoned.
Like his Job.
Perry hadn’t really much of a choice when it came to time to start working and to bring in some money to his Family House. At 15, he’d been told that it was time to get a job, and that his Dad had spoken to Mr Jankelowitz down at the Hardware store on East 52nd. His Dad told him he’d to report for work on Monday morning, Eight O’clock, sharp.
Perry had been there for almost 42 years now, and apart from four days off in ‘67 to have his appendix out, he’d never missed a day, not even when the rest of the staff was dropping down with flu. No-Sirr! This was his destiny and if destiny said that was the way it was going to be, then he couldn’t let Mr Jankelowitz down, now could he, he reasoned?
In January, just before the Builders returned to work to start their construction schedules, Perry took his annual leave, which now entitled him to 15 working days, or close to four weeks if you took into consideration Sundays.
Overall, he made the most of his fate and his destiny, and enjoyed his work as much as anyone working in a Hardware store for 42 years could enjoy it.
He was good at his job, and Mr Jankelowitz Junior, who took over the business from his Dad in ‘84, was happy with his performance. You certainly didn’t rise from the position of general dogsbody, to Senior Sales Clerk unless someone thought you were doing something right.
The only thing Perry was unhappy about, was his wage packet. He found it increasingly difficult to manage his household on the $428.55 take home pay, particularly as his landlord of the last 17 years had recently increased his rental by more than 20% due to spiralling costs, as he put it
It was pointless talking to Mr Jankelowitz and as such, he wouldn’t insult him by doing so, even though Perry’s wife, Marcie, told him that he should have enough backbone to stand up for what was right. Increases came only once a year in January and had been a solid, steady 5% increase ever since he could remember.
Perry didn’t want anything to upset the numbers and so, rather than live to regret upsetting Mt Jankelowitz, he cut back on his personal expenses and in fact, gave up drinking beer and the occasional cigarette in order to make ends meet.
Perry also had a vice.
Perry enjoyed a flutter at the races every Friday lunchtime, and until recently, had played quite a profitable game at the local track, only ten minutes away from his workplace.
Whatever he did, he always used the same combination of numbers.
He took his own Birthdate, Marcie’s Birthdate and His Mom’ Birthdate and, depending how many numbers he needed, he always used the same method to arrive at either a two, three, four, five, six, or seven digit number.
In the case of his weekly lotto entry, the numbers he always backed were 10, 14, 17, 18, 20, and 30. His second entry was a variation of that being 4, 6, 11, 16, 24 and 40 . Another variation, made up his third lotto entry, and that was 9, 10, 17, 27, 29 and 42.
Every week, he took these three sets of numbers and he had not changed them in the last four years.
Yes, he’d had a couple of reasonable wins, but over the last few months he’d had nothing. This weekends Super Lotto Draw was a record, but he didn’t doubt his choice of numbers. The numbers were fated, like the rest of his life.
At the track, he used the same source to calculate numbers, which gave him the horses to back, the race number, as well as the date of the race meeting.
On one occasion, he took home a whopping $132 from a bet on a horse that he’d backed, based on The Numbers.
Today, on his walk to work, he’d stopped in at the Seven-eleven and taken his usual three numbers in the Lotto draw. He put the ticket neatly folded in his wallet. The most he’d ever won on the Lotto was $46 and recently he was reasoning that maybe he should save the three dollars he spent every week, and rather use it at the track where he seemed to have more success.
The bookie’s at the Track knew him well now and had even extended a “Line of Credit “ to allow him to place bigger bets on his favourite horses.
Today he had to win and he had to win big.
Apart from two of the Bookie’s who had given him a deadline of today to pay up the six thousand two hundred dollars, or else, he was in about as deep as any man could get. He’d borrowed $2000 from his Brother-in-Law, Bert, another $300 from one of his colleagues at work and even resorted to borrowing $450 from his neighbour Calvyn.
But that was not the worst of it.
Since they’d got married in 1992, Perry and Marcie had been saving what little they could afford to eventually go on that honeymoon that they didn’t have. Marcie had been four months pregnant when they got married and was one of those women who threw up at every opportunity and suffered morning, noon and night.
When she’d miscarried in her seventh month, she was told that she shouldn’t have children as apart from her feeble frame, it was genetically advisable, the two of them being Cousins, not to try to have more children. A hysterectomy was performed shortly afterwards.
Perry had always promised Marcie that they would take a holiday down in Florida once they’d saved up enough money. Until a few months ago, that account stood at just under four thousand dollars and by January, when his leave was due, they would have enough saved to take a trailer behind the car and spend a couple of weeks soaking up the sun.
The account now had a balance of less than $500, as Perry had slowly whittled away at his life savings.
One final act of borrowing, worried him more than all the others.
Over the years, Mr Jankelowitz had entrusted Perry to manage the Petty Cash, and to keep the Books up to date for when the Accountants came in at the end of this month. Perry was about $650 short due to his borrowings. When this came out, he was finished. Mr Jankelowitz would not only fire him on the spot but would certainly call the police. He’d seen Mr Jankelowitz have many shoplifter arrested over the years, some of them for such petty crimes as stealing a packet of 69 cent screws.
Today had to be the Big day. Or else.
By 12.30, Perry had finished unpacking and pricing the new Power Tools that had arrived and was eager to leave work for his lunchtime trip to the track. Mr Jankelowitz always paid his staff promptly at 11.00 every Friday, so Perry was ready to roll.
He left as the lunch bell sounded and arrived at the track at ten past one, just in time to get his bet in on the first race at 1.15.
He played the first two races carefully, as complete outsiders had come up in his numbers, and he didn’t want that high a risk.
The third horse his numbers had shown, was also an outsider, but Perry knew that this was the one that was going to save him from all of his troubles. If this one came in at 60 to 1, he was home and dry.
He put $400 each way on number 6, Sunburst. That would be more than $24 000, certainly enough to take away his constant headaches.
Even the name was omenous, and said to Perry that Florida was just around the corner.
The first two races did nothing for his pocket as both of the horses he’d backed didn’t even finish.
He sat glued to the final bend and sat at the home straight in the track, as the gates opened for the third race.
Sunburst sat in amongst the clump of horses as they rounded the first bend, and by the second bend, had moved back a couple of positions, if anything. Perry sighed deeply.
As they rounded the third bend, he could hear the commentator, excitedly shouting the race’s progress across the P.A. system.
His heart skipped a beat as he heard “Sunburst,” more frequently and nearly died when the horses rounded the bend with Sunburst a good two lengths in front of the rest. His horse was still pulling away from the pack at an incredible pace!
Sunburst crossed the line more than four lengths ahead of the next horse, and Perry breathed a sigh of total relief.
Perry was grinning from ear to ear as he collected his winnings. It came to just under $18 000 after the bookies had taken what they were owed, and Perry was still smiling as he left the track knowing his worries were now well behind him.
Florida, here we come, he thought to himself.
The two thugs must have been at the track, watching the winners very carefully because, as Perry rounded the corner to catch a Taxi, they were upon him.
The first one had a Gun and the second, a very lethal looking knife.
It was over in seconds with the two thugs running off down the street, Perry in a bruised heap on the ground, and his winnings well on the way to some low-life drug dealer down town.
Perry was devastated.
With a look of absolute defeat on his bruised face, he set off walking towards his workplace, all the time thinking that this was the final straw.
Perry could take no more.
He stopped to cross East 19th and almost walked into the traffic, lost as he was in is world of defeat. If someone hadn’t grabbed his arm, he would have walked straight into a Massive Mack Diesel Truck, towing two trailers and managing about 30 miles an hour.
Which is exactly what he did next.
He waitied until the next big rig came thundering along and then literally, just threw himself in front of it.
The driver had no time to brake, and only knew what had happened as Perry’s flattened and smashed body flipped from the bullbar in front, and right over the roof of the Cab.
Three days after the tragedy, Marcie collected Perry’s personal effects from the Morgue and arranged for the body, what was left of it, to be cremated.
When she arrived home, she opened the box and quickly went through the contents.
Not much to talk about she thought, a cheap watch, a cheap wallet, a few coins and that’s that.
The wallet contained two single dollar bills, a couple of useless credit cards and a Lotto ticket. She removed the cash and the lotto ticket and decided the rest should go where it belongs, into the trashcan.
Perry and his numbers, she thought to herself, always Perry and his damn numbers.
She put on the kettle and made herself a mug of strong black coffee, and sat down on the couch, absolutely drained of all energy.
She switched on the TV and sat back to catch up on some worthwhile news.
“And in some local news today. The biggest ever Super Lotto prize of just over $600 million dollars still remains unclaimed. The ticket, purchased at a Seven-Eleven on East 52nd has so far not been claimed.” The announcer proclaimed.
He rambled on a bit more and then said, “So who knows, it may be you, you might be holding that ticket somewhere and forgotten about it, check your pockets, check your purses, check your wallets. The numbers again are,”
Marcie looked at the screen as the numbers flashed up boldly.
4, 6, 11, 16, 24 and 40 and the bonus ball is 42.
Marcie, stopped in the middle of a mouthful of coffee, stood up quickly, smiling to herself as she crossed the room to the dining table where the contents of Perry’s wallet lay on the table.
“Florida, here I come,” she thought to herself, broad smile stretching from ear to ear.
The Seven Men sat around the table with the head seat being left vacant. No one sat in that seat because it was reserved exclusively for the Elected One. Once the vote had taken place and the Elected One had taken his place, the newly vacated seat would be filled by new nominations from the remaining six members.
The Elected One’s chair had become vacant quite suddenly and this meeting had been called as a matter of urgency to decide on the Successor.
The longest standing member had called the meeting and automatically held the Chairman’s role in such an extreme case.
The Chairman was one of Four of the members, although substantial in their commitment to the cause, who knew for themselves, that they stood no chance of taking the revered position. They respected and admired all of those present but held an almost awesome admiration for The Three.
The Three, were picked by the Elected One for their achievements and were privy and party to many confidences and decisions not afforded the other members.They had earned their places by their unrelenting and unbroken promise to serve their Lord and Master. They displayed this commitment on a daily basis whilst retaining the admiration of their Earthly followers.
The vacant position in The Three would be filled in the same way.
The Chairman cut short any further hesitations and called the meeting to order.
“Gentlemen, Dignitaries, Heads of State, and duly Elected Members, I call this meeting to order and thank you all for attending at such short notice” he said firmly.
“As you are all aware, the position of The Elected One has become vacant rather suddenly due to the untimely demise of our Brother, who in spite of protestations from our associates, was executed in an unfair display of supposedly “Righteous Powers.” Long may he serve our Lord and Master.” he continued, “We are here today to hear from The Three. Each will be given no more than three minutes to state his case, whereafter, we will vote to appoint the new Elected One. Once such appointment has taken place we will take our combined vows, to serve, honour and obey The Elected One as the sole and deserved spokesman for our Mighty Lord and Master.”
A folded piece of vellum paper was handed in turn to each of the members.
“ I ask that no conversation takes place either during or after the presentations and that you each should make your mark in favour of the recipient, fold the paper in quarters, and then pass them to myself. I will then count the votes and announce the Successor. Any questions?”
The room remained respectfully silent as the voting vellum was positioned before each of the members.
“Will the first candidate, please rise and present your credentials.” The Chairman commanded.
The first Candidate rose from his chair, cleared his throat with a small cough, and started his oratory.
“Gentlemen, I will cut across all niceties and merely present my achievements to you. You can be the judge of my splendour.” He opened, smiling over the top of his designer spectacles.
“I’m not a young man anymore, I’m in my eighties, but what glorious years they have been for My Lord and Master.
I started out as a young rebel leader who rose up against the Regime and bore arms to bring to the People of my land, the environment, so badly needed, for me to succeed in my mission.
During my rebel days, I commanded thousands of men and women who killed and maimed, both the oppressors, and many innocents. By gun, by bomb, by slaughter or by genocide, I strove diligently to do His work.
I converted the simple minded and persuaded the intelligentsia. I put pressure on the world, to act to remove the Old Regime.
Eventually, I won the right to take part in Elections, and my converts and crony supporters, voted me into the position I still hold today.
What have I achieved in this time, you may ask?
This powerful country, once called the “Bread Basket of Africa” rich in it’s mineral wealth and overflowing with human resources, is very close to achieving my final objective.
I have removed all the illegal Farmers who occupied the land and replaced them with, not only my good servants and stooges, but also with incompetents and idiots.
The proof is in the reading. The numbers speak for themselves.
I have decimated the crops. I have decimated the resources. My economy looks like a Monopoly game, and the end of sustainable life as the people knew it, is not too far away.
Yes, I’ve had opponents and dissenters, but I’ve dealt with them accordingly. I proudly speak of the slaughters in the lands of my dissenting supporters who decided to try to oppose my rule. Many thousand lay dead in the fields and dirt roads as evidence of my supreme rule.
When I drive the streets of this land, the people bow down to me and are taught to avert their eyes.
I have banished the outspoken and have imprisoned those that dared to try to rise against me, either in force, or in writing. My prisons are filled to capacity.
My time at this meeting is running out and I therefore ask you, no, tell you, do not oppose me.
Rise with me and forever be rewarded in the eyes of My Lord and Master.”
The speaker retired to his seat, a fine line of sweat beading his tailored, moustachioed top lip.
The Chairman thanked the speaker and welcomed the second candidate.
“I will not bore you all with my background, but enough is said by the very state of the world today. “ he opened.
“ I laugh at the financial and other support I managed to achieve from the Western Agencies, approved and condoned by their Presidents and Prime Ministers, to wage war on the Invaders during their attempted invasions.I even managed to get their support in training my loyal men to become the warriors they are today.” He said, smiling through his long, flowing beard.
“Yes, they armed me, they trained me and they supported me, until it no longer suited me and achieving my ultimate goals.
Today, I am amongst the worlds most wanted men.
Why you may ask?
Because I have now converted that power and knowledge into one of the worlds best tactical machines.
My wars are fought at a different level.
What have I achieved?
I hold the world in the grip of terror.
I bomb and maim by sacrificing my followers for the good of their religion, in the knowledge that they will receive martyrdom and eternal life. A very effective ploy, even if I say so myself.
I have taken down airplanes, I have taken down buildings, and I have taken down the supporters and followers of those that empowered me.
I work in His way. In a cold, silent, but commanding way that leaves the world desperate for a new path to follow. A world full of potential converts for the next phase of His Ascension.
Gentlemen, I let you judge for yourselves. Let fear be the deciding factor.”
The second candidate sat down and remained smiling.
“And finally, our third candidate will present his case.” The chairman announced.
Normally, a prepared, written speech would have been placed before him. He didn’t feel exposed without one – the written ones were all a show for the people, to say “Hey, this is not only me speaking, this is the voice of the People!” His cronies knew him well and supported his ultimate goals.
“When my Father stood before you many years ago, he mapped out his Ultimate Goal, knowing that he couldn’t be a part of that final plan.
What he did promise you, was that his work had not been in vain and that he had placed the right people in the right places in order that I would be elected by the people to take up where he and my predecessor left off.” He looked down out of habit, expecting his next prompt from a piece of paper.
“My power is demonstrated even moreso, by my re-election in the face of rising pressure to unseat me. They fear my achievements.
What have I achieved?
With my allies and partners in this plan, we have set the world at war.
We have even trained our attackers, my learned and respected fellow Member, in order to justify our actions and turned a blind eye to the massacre of thousands in order to further our goal.
Then we have turned them on our own people, on the people of the world.
We can now justify our presence and our actions just about anywhere in the world, where we choose to portray these terrorists as presenting a clear and present threat.
When we’re there, we do His work in many ways.
First, there are our own people, hundreds of thousands of them, waiting to be picked off by the next kidnapper or suicide bomber.
Then there’s the locals - train them up, put them out there and between them, they’ll reduce the numbers, it doesn’t really matter which side they’re on. We’ve always got someone shooting at someone else.
And then there’s the Allies, their troops, their citizens, their children, all helping me to fight this “War on Terrorism.” Their assistance lines them up as the next target for these terrorist acts.
What next, you might want to ask me?
I hold the key. I hold the power. I hold the football, as they call it!
When the time is right, and I know when that time is to come, I can achieve the ultimate goal.
A world that is ready and worthy of His occupation.
Thank you Gentlemen, I know you’ll do the right thing.” he concluded.
“Gentlemen, May I remind you that the votes of The Three may not be in favour of yourself.” the Chairman reminded the Candidates.
The voting didn’t take more than a couple of minutes with all the vellum papers, neatly folded now, sitting in the Chairman’s hands.
“I thank all of the Candidates for their presentations and know that it is most difficult to summarise such wondrous achievements in the short time allocated to you,” he smiled.
“I also want to thank the other Members for their votes and for their sterling work in fighting for our causes in their own special way.”
“So, without further ado, let me announce the results” he said, opening the stack of voting papers, one by one.
He read and placed the papers into two piles, each containing three papers.
“It seems Gentlemen, that we have a tie so far, making it essential for me to cast the final, deciding vote.”
“Let me start by saying that each of The Three, presented a fine and strong case for this position and that there will be no losers in this Election.
Each of us, every Member, has a job to do, and each of us will achieve a place at His side for our continuous work towards His Cause.
My decision, is based on this Ultimate Cause - How can we, in the quickest possible time, achieve these ends?
By electing the candidate with the best global reach. With the best credibility and support from the rest of the Leaders.
I therefore place my vote with Candidate number three and welcome him to take his seat at the head of this table where I will bestow upon him, the title and the honour, he so well deserves.
The Successor rose, smiling, and took the four paces to the head of the table at a slow steady pace, grinning and thanking his supporters as he passed them.
He pulled back the seat at the head of the table and settled into it, still grinning from his victory.
The Chairman approached with a large rectangular box, inlaid with bone in the shape of a “7”, and placed it on the table in front of the Successor.
From the box, he took a Black sash, which he placed over the left shoulder of the Successor.
He lifted out a small glass phial, deep crimson in colour, as well as a wafer made of a dark black flour.
He started his chanting and the inauguration of the Successor.
"Sanguis bibimus, corpus edimus, tolle corpus Satani.”
“We drink the blood, we eat the flesh, raise the body of Satan.” the Members chanted as the Chairman placed the contents of the phial and the black wafer on the lips of the Successor.
“Ave Satani!" The Chairman praised.
"Hail, Satan!" The Members stood and chanted.
“Ave versus Christus!” The Chairman shouted."Hail, the New Antichrist!" They shouted in unison.
The Successor smiled, looked at his watch and excused himself from the meeting.
He had scheduled an urgent meeting with one of the Allied Prime Ministers – an ideal Candidate for the position he had just vacated in The Three. He had no doubt that he would accept such a position of honour.
The next time they convened, he should have some positive news for them, he thought to himself.
Sometimes, all it takes is a wish for the dream to come true…..
It wasn’t a new model pick-up. On the money that Sakkie managed to scrape together nowadays, he doubted whether he’d ever be able to afford any of the dreams he might have once had. This would have to tide him over for quite a while to come, at least until he was able to sell off part of the land he’d inherited when his Ma and Pa had died in that tragic accident back in 1993. Property prices were pretty lean right now so he didn’t hold out too much hope for an immediate solution.
The truck was a 1977 Chev’ El Camino V8 Pick-up that he’d bought second hand back in 1988 when petrol cost nothing a litre. When he’d bought it, it had been a proud, orangey, metallic gold colour, but over time, this had faded to a rather dull, matted, rusty colour. Over the years, it had picked up its fair share of dings, scrapes and dents, mainly from travelling on roads that normal cars wouldn’t.
He needed to have a good strong workhorse to be able to tow both the caravan and the boat which he kept on his smallholding a few gravelly kilometres outside of Ashton. Another twenty two kilometres of gravel to the slipway at Stompneus Bay.
Sakkie also had a small Jurgens 4-berth caravan which he used every few months, just to get away from the home environment and to settle into any area where he could regain his sanity, drink a few cold beers and just chill out for a while. “Forget about life, forget about the Wife,” he often joked half-seriously to his mates down at the slipway.
The Boat, proudly named Magdalena, after his once beautiful, once desirable Wife, had become his bread and butter, Without the boat, he would starve. Rather like his Wife, the boat had taken on a shabby, dull, unkempt appearance over the years.
Without the Pick-up he wouldn’t be able to tow either the boat or the caravan. Without the Pick-up he would starve to death.
After the devastating fire that wiped out Sakkie’s dreams when the golden farmlands burned back in 1995, he’d had no choice but to do what he knew well and loved most, to earn a living - Tow his boat down to the slipway and spend the day catching the plump fish that would be proudly eaten at many a dinner table that evening.
The El-Camino seller, had assured him that this Pick-up would “go on forever” and true to his word, this one had cost him very little to keep on the road over the last 19 years. The odd oil change, which he did himself, the brakes every year or so, and the occasional set of filters, kept her going strong, allowing him at least to get the boat into the water and to catch whatever was biting in the bay.
The odometer showed more than 380 000 kilometres, but that had died on him back in 1992. He reckoned it was way past the half-million mark by now.
Most of his catch, he managed to sell on the side of the main Highway at the end of the day, and very rarely did he return home with anything more than was needed for the table.
His Wife, Magdalena, was very proud of his fishing skills as this allowed her to do what she loved best.
She spent the waking hours of her day, sprawled on her now generously proportioned backside, watching soaps on the snowy TV screen, eating bag after bag of Lays crisps, washing them down with tubs of “Fat-free” ice cream, whilst chain-smoking her un-filtered Camel cigarettes with the other hand and generally, just pigging out until it was time for Sakkie to get home and start their supper.
In the old days, Sakkie would return to the house to find a steaming plate of food ready at the table once he’d had a quick clean-up in the bathroom.
Today, he’d be lucky to find a smoke filled room, empty wrappers all around the couch and to be greeted with “Sshhhhhhhhh! This is a critical part “ from a prone, no,”spread” Magdalena, referring to “Days of our Lives” or “Egoli” or some other monumental, world-changing soapy, blaring from the TV set.
Today was a day just like every other day for the last however-many years, (except Sundays when he went to the local church to catch up on all the gossip, and occasionally to pray) and Sakkie had managed to catch about sixteen, good size Yellow Fin Tuna, which he sold within half an hour on the Highway lay bye.
He got into the cab of his pick-up after making sure everything was tied down on the boat behind him. He turned the ignition key with his usual silent prayer, and breathed a sigh of relief as the motor throbbed into life. The pick-up belched clouds of blue-black smoke, enveloping the cab. One day soon, the engine will have to come out and get a complete overhaul, he thought in a sudden state of panic.
Sakkie pulled out of the lay-bye and drove the two kilometres to the farm turn off and on to the gravel road towards Ashton. Since the new Toll road had been built a few years back, not much traffic used this narrow, red dirt road, and Sakkie was relaxed as he travelled at a good steady 50 kilometres an hour and headed home. Any oncoming traffic would always be well signalled by the cloud of red dust on the horizon.
Half way down the gravel track, he stopped to let his “Crew” get off the back of the pick-up. He watched in the rear-view mirror as Smiling Solomon, a fifty-something Zulu, Father of five, climbed out of the truck carrying his two-fish-share of the catch and his Vodacom Rugby rucksack containing the tools of his trade.
Sakkie waved a goodbye knowing that tomorrow morning, Solomon would be waiting next to the fence like clockwork at 5.30. Solomon would sell his “Share” long before he got home to the small village where he lived, almost thirty minutes walk from the fence. Solomon would have a very proud Wife tonight back at his Kraal. Smiling Solomon would live up to his name tonight.
Sakkie drove on for another five minutes when he spotted a familiar cloud of red dust on the horizon, indicating an oncoming car. He slowed down to 40, just in case.
Then it happened. His faithful, ever-loving pick-up truck, jerked twice, spluttered a few more times, backfired loudly, with an accompanying cloud of white smoke, and then, very suddenly, died on him.
He free-wheeled to a halt, trying hard to steer towards the edge of the road but not into the stormwater ditch. The silence of the once throbbing V8 engine rang sharply in his ears.
He strained his ears to pick out the sound of the oncoming vehicle and looked up to see that the trailing cloud of dust was almost upon him. He switched on his headlamps as a warning to the oncoming driver.
The cloud grew bigger, taller, and wider and Sakkie expected to see a large Truck, probably from one of the neighbouring farms, coming into view very soon, judging by the size of the dust storm it was trailing.
He listened for the familiar Diesel Motor sound to come into earshot.
Sakkie heard nothing except a sharp, almost electric-type of singing, whistling sharply, almost playing out a tune. The sound reminded him of these new fangled, Mobile Phones he’d seen when he went into the city, once in a while.
The cloud was almost upon him and fearing that the truck might not see him until it was too late, Sakkie climbed out of the cab of the pick-up and stepped back, well away from the road’s edge.
Closing his eyes to protect them from the dust, he was half expecting to hear a smash as the big truck came past. Sakkie was relieved when he heard the whistling noise, whiz past his pick-up, and looking up, he saw that whatever it was, it was trailing a huge cloud of red dust, obscuring the vehicle totally other than a few green and red, pulsating lights he could make out through the thick dust.
It took quite a few minutes for the dust to clear and Sakkie spent the time wiping his eyes and thinking that this must be something new. Maybe an electric truck or some other new fancy invention that he didn’t get to hear about because, quite frankly, he wasn’t that interested.
Just like these damned mobile phones! Who needs them,? he thought. The last thing a Man should have is a Wife who can phone him every waking minute of the day. Where has the joy of privacy gone, if your Wife can phone you at any time of the day or night, anywhere, any place? he thought. The next thing, she’d be phoning to say, she’s run out of crisps or cigarettes or Ice Cream or some other item!
Sakkie’s thoughts drifted back to his beloved, but now stranded Pick-up. As he walked back around the front of the truck, he did a double take.
He looked back towards the receding cloud of red dust, and there, sitting parked by the side of the road, not more than five meters from where his pick-up had died on him, was a vehicle.
No, not just any old vehicle, but a very fancy one at that!
This must be one of these, new-fangled, fancy hybrid-drive’s he’d heard about. A big, black model sitting low but proud with it’s four, fancy, rectangular headlights and tinted black windows. The badge on the front grille was un-recognisable – this must be a Chevvy he thought as he admired the shining chromed grill. Damn clever these Yanks, he thought as he took in the sleek, aerodynamic body lines and low slung suspension which made the vehicle look as though it had no wheels and was just hovering there.
The passenger door opened. Sakkie could see a vague outline of the person getting out of the door of the vehicle, and recognised the familiar curve of a steering wheel being held as the occupant alighted.
Sakkie realised then, that this wasn’t the passenger getting out, but the driver. This was one of those imported, left-hand drive models which cost an arm and a leg once the import duty had been banged on the top by the Government.
A long, leather clad leg, slowly stretched itself down to the roadside gravel, followed by another shapely leg. A leather clad arm extending to a slim hand, with brightly red-varnished nails, reached around the door side, grabbing the door frame.
The door closed and Sakkie could see for the first time, the Occupant in full glorious Technicolor.
To say she was beautiful was the understatement of the century, Sakkie thought as he admired the slinky curves that made up the body of the driver.
Sakkie looked up to the face of the driver to see what every man always dreams of.
The hair colour was not natural. No-one could have hair as brilliantly Black, no, reddish-black as that. She must have spent a fortune on cosmetics as well, judging by the beautiful jaw-line, perky little upturned nose, and such a beautiful mouth. Her eyes, although shaded by dark black sunglasses with little gold labels in the one corner, glowed, almost green, from behind the frames.
My God, he thought, she’s absolutely gorgeous! In fact, she looks a lot like My Magdalena did when I first met her, right down to the hair, the painted nails and the leather catsuit she eventually burst out of.
Sakkie’s mind slipped back to the early days of High School when he’d first met Magdalena and been overcome by her sheer beauty. Oh how time changes many things. Yes Sir! Twenty years and two hundred pounds later…….
“You got a problem Big-Boy?” the Stranger asked, smiling to herself as she approached with long, elegant strides to where has was now leaning against the Pick-up.
Magdalena had called him “Big-Boy” too, way back then, when she was still interested in the physical side of their relationship. Over the years, this had petered out to almost nothing except maybe for his Birthday or for Xmas when she would “do her duty” urging him to “hurry up and finish” the second he’d climbed over her bulging belly, and positioned himself, hoping to actually penetrate through the layers of accumulated fat.
“Seems she eventually went and died on me, just ground to a halt” Sakkie replied.
“Well, let’s go and take a look under the bonnet then shall we, Big Boy?”
There it was again, “Big-boy.”
“Big-boy,” where does she come with that? He smiled and wondered as she slid past him, standing at the front of the pick-up.
“Why don’t you pop the hood and let me take a look” she said.
Obviously she’s an import too, thought Sakkie listening to her accent and wondering if it was American or Canadian. Probably American, reasoning that only American’s call the bonnet a “Hood.”
He reached under the dash and pulled at the bonnet release lever. He walked to the front of the pick-up to find that the Stranger had already rolled back her tailored leather sleeves and was fiddling around under the air filter.
She withdrew her hands and said “ Give her a turn and lets hear how she sounds.”
Sakkie went back to the cab, positioned himself in the drivers seat, and turned the ignition key. The engine turned as the starter motor strained against the already tired engine. He could hear the spark plugs trying hard to ignite the fuel. A splutter, a cough, and then an almighty metallic grinding sound brought the engine to its final resting place.
“I’m sorry but I think you’ve dropped a valve. Sounds pretty dead to me” the stranger apologised, now standing next to the drivers window, giving Sakkie a bit of a shock.
“I think I’ve seen the last of her, she’s eventually given up the ghost!” he replied. “They certainly don’t make them like that anymore. I doubt your
© Copyright 2016 ARTHUR HOWE. All rights reserved.
Book / Thrillers
Short Story / Thrillers
Short Story / Fantasy
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