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Excerpt for Monumental by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

MONUMENTAL



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are fictional or used fictitiously.



Copyright Mark Abel 2018





Chapter 1

The Monument.



The dark stone structure stands on the very top of a strip of land running east to west and dominates the view for miles around. A solitary feature against the skyline, serving as a landmark for weary travellers. Skirted by the wide main road on one side and a much lesser known and rarely used single lane track on the other.

From the top, on a rare clear spring day, the cathedral spire in the distant city is just visible to the west, far beyond the rolling fields of the novel bright yellow Rape seed, the increasingly popular new crop in the area that was being heavily subsidised and producing an unpleasant tasting low quality cooking oil. It was also proving to be particularly annoying to the local beekeepers as the honey it created was so thick it clogged up everything it came into contact with.

Turning around to look to the east, the ground drops gently away for several miles to peter out at the docks at the mouth of the river with the coal dark sea and its permanent scummy coating of coke dust just beyond.

The southern aspect contains a rough track worn into the grass bank, which drops steeply down to meet the main road, beyond which are the original three terraced rows of small pit cottages now sharing the freshly cleared and landscaped countryside with the new housing development just behind them.

A stylised silhouette of the monument featured proudly on the original advertising hoardings for the Carrott Builders new "Athenaeum" housing development, and with the wind in the right direction, the sounds of the heavy machinery employed in the second phase of the construction could easily be heard high up on the crest of the ridge.

Loosely styled along the lines of an ancient Greek temple, the structure was composed of a base of black granite blocks, contrasted with lighter coloured sandstone columns rising to a canopy of more black stone. During the summer evenings, three large floodlights mounted on the grass bank illuminated the structure through the night, the columns acting as a beacon for travellers on the coast road.

The much-repeated popular local opinion that the monument was built on an ancient Druid worship site had been proved to be totally unfounded and yet even today some of the younger, fitter, hornier and more brazen couples still climbed the steep hillside to celebrate the ancient religion, pray to the ancient gods and ravish each other under open skies.

These religious festivities made it far from unusual for early morning dog walkers to observe discarded underclothes littering the grass banks or hanging from bushes.

Semaphore signals of sin.

A few less knowledgeable locals, not wanting to be left out of any discussions, confidently stated that the temple had been built by the Greeks shortly after they had arrived in their long ships to plunder the town and commit other atrocities. They then went on to cite the abundance of Kebab shops in the locality as giving proof to their proclamations.

Some of the better-educated but just as equally deluded folk will swear blind that the structure is situated on a major ley line, one of the mystical prehistoric routes criss-crossing the land and linking important sacred sites.

By spreading a map out onto a table top and using a ruler, a straight line can be persuaded to run from the monument, almost through the cathedral spire and then carrying on to pass close to a pond, where supposedly, crusaders had paused and allowed their horses to drink as they made their slow and often one-way journey to seek glory in the Holy Land.

This imaginary line can then be continued to come within nodding distance of a hill where legend has it that St George once slew a dragon. Now, back in the dim and murky past when this slaying occurred the creature may have originally been a large worm but over time, evolution or metamorphosis gave the beast impressive fire breathing capabilities and improved the quality of the tale.

Given a suitably large enough map and an impressive table top, our fictitious straight line would now continue for 24,901 miles or so, and providing it didn’t shoot out into space at the edge of the world, as flat earthers would have you believe, it would find itself right back at the starting point again.

In a journey of almost twenty five thousand miles along the surface of the planet it would be next to impossible not to touch at least a slack handful of motivating man-made and natural structures, new churches, old temples, battlefields, monoliths, lakes, river deep, mountain high, well you get the idea.

Now, if that isn’t enough, to add even more glamour and raise the mumbo-jumbo rating, it also helps to have the line act as a conduit for mysterious energies, working as some sort of Holy hosepipe, and playing merry hell with the lives of nearby dwellers.

If that one is a little too fanciful for your tastes, another endearing myth was that the monument had been financed and possibly even built by a group of local farm workers as a gift to their much-admired employer. The sting in the tale - and there is frequently a sting in the best yarns - was that upon seeing the finished temple, the employer realised he was paying his workforce far too much and promptly increased their rents.

Of course, these tales had rightly gained legendary status by standing the test of time and benefited from being embellished and frequently repeated, but the report of a more recent incident had spread so rapidly around the town and then snowballed to such an extent that even the national newspapers got wind of it and ran the story.



Chapter 2

Saturday February 13th 3 .a.m.

Dick



Driving home on a misty early morning, Richard (Dick) Amory, a sixty two year old retired milkman, was thinking of nothing more than getting home and to his bed.

He sang along quietly to the music drifting from the small speaker built into in the top of the dashboard.

"Please don't take him just because you can...."

Dick couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but liked Dolly Parton and he thought that Tammy Wynette was ok too, and whilst it was true to say that he didn't know much about country music and wasn't too sure exactly where in America Nashville, Tennessee was, he was fairly confident that his wife, Ada, wouldn't waste much time pleading with a love rival over him.

He had recently come to believe, (correctly, as it happens) that the longevity of his marriage was due to his bedtime having been several hours earlier than his wife’s for almost forty years.

Dolly continued her begging on the late night radio whilst a couple of feet behind him, the Fiat 650cc engine roared away gamely, noisily competing with the ballad as it pushed the small car at a steady thirty eight miles-per-hour up the long hill away from the dock where our hero had a part-time cleaning job. This cash-in-hand fiddle, four hours nightly, between ten and two topped up the income he allowed himself to take from the lump sum released by the sale of his milk delivery business and enabled him to have a daily flutter on the horses.

Sadly, he tended to leave a good chunk of his wages with the local bookie but in another couple of years he would be eligible for his state pension and then things would improve, especially if he kept up the cleaning work.

The car didn't have the luxury, or indeed the electrical current to spare for a dashboard cigarette lighter but after thirty seven years of driving an electric milk float Dick considered himself a sufficiently skilful driver to be able to grip the steering wheel with his knees whilst extracting a rolled up cigarette from the battered Old Holborn tin and spark it alight with his plastic disposable lighter.

As he glanced down at the lighter, the glare from its flame momentarily blinded him so that when his vision cleared, he was shocked and physically jumped in his seat when he saw the reflection of a pair of the headlights appear, in the rear view mirror, getting rapidly larger and brighter as they quickly gained on him.

This had happened to him a couple of times previously as petrol tankers from the fuel terminal on the coast slowly overhauled him, swinging out to overtake at the last moment to minimise the time they spent illegally over the white line on the wrong side of the road. These tankers were usually being driven by hired hands, paid less than the regular company drivers and consequently prepared to take more risks.

The lights were growing brighter, illuminating the car’s basic painted steel interior as he pulled himself upright and hunched himself over the steering wheel, preparing himself to do battle with the slipstream the behemoths created and which forced him to grip the wheel tightly to keep his vehicle on course as it was buffeted towards the kerb. The matt black tyres and the silver cylindrical truck body with its highly inflammable cargo slowly crawled past a few mere inches from his right ear and he knew that any driver error by either of them could result in his car and himself being ground up, spat out and left flattened in the street like a crushed tin can.

However, tonight was different somehow. The lights appeared to be too widely spaced for a pair of lorry lights and far, far too bright, but there was something else, as he stole another look behind him, yes, he was sure, one of the lights was significantly higher than its partner. As he watched, it continued rising at forty-five degrees until it was directly above the other.

The only conclusion that Dick could come up with was that a fuel tanker must have skidded and tipped onto its side somehow, and whilst he didn't consider himself to be a brave man (and nor did anyone else) he instinctively knew he had to stop and go back to try and help the driver.

Before he could slow down enough to contemplate doing a U Turn in the road however, he realised his theory was incorrect and that the tanker couldn't have been in an accident as instead of dropping back, the lights were still closing in on him.

The inside of the car was now as bright as day whilst the night outside appeared to be growing darker than mere night, the two vertical lights filled the rear screen, their beams so intense that the temperature inside the claustrophobic car was beginning to creep up. The fear and the rising temperature caused beads of perspiration to break out on Dick’s forehead and he could feel sweat trickling down his back under his shirt, running down to his buttocks and forming a small pool on the vinyl seat.

The mirror showed him that the lights were now keeping pace with him and he began to think that once he reached the brow of the hill and then the descent he might be able to muster enough extra speed to outrun them.

He pushed down harder with his right foot onto the accelerator and the tiny engine rattled louder without providing any noticeable extra performance but after a few more seconds he could make out the shape of the monument up on the hill to his right, the top half of its columns standing proud of the mist as though it was hovering above the ground.

He had been so preoccupied studying the rear-view mirror that he hadn't noticed Dolly Parton fading in and out of tune and being replaced by a steady electronic static sound filled with click, pops and whistles, which was gradually increasing in volume and rising in pitch.

As the little car finally reached the summit of the hill, and was running alongside the monument the two lights spread apart and raced up above and beside him.

The sky filled with a blinding white light as though lit by a giant magnesium flare, the heat driving the ground level mist away to form a dirty grey circumference, leaving the car and its occupant sitting in a clear circle like a sample in a Petri dish.

The glare was so intense that Dick didn't notice any change in illumination as the car’s headlamp bulbs overheated and exploded.

The radio died at the same time as the engine fell silent.

Dick reached for the door lock, lent his shoulder against the door, and fell out into the spotlight.



II

It was almost midday when limping badly and incoherent, Dick finally found his way to the local shopping centre and another twenty minutes before the cops turned up with the blue flashing lights to collect the suspected dope fiend. As he was being handed over by the supermarket security guard, his luck finally took a turn for the better.

" Hey, I know you; you used to be our milkman." stated the older of the two cops." I remember you rattling round in the milk float years ago. So how have you got yourself in this condition?"

He decided not to mention his childhood indiscretion concerning the times he’d helped himself to a free early-morning carton of orange juice whilst the float had been left unattended. The Chief Constable probably wouldn’t have appreciated knowing either, and anyway, here was a far better way to balance the books.

A quick word with the rent-a-cop working security praising him for his quick thinking and Dick found himself placed into the care of the two police officers.

As he was being led from the shop to the police car, past the small crowd of nosey shoppers that had formed and appeared to be more interested in the workings of the long arm of the law than the fifteen pence price reduction on fish fingers special offer, Dick started mumbling, a quiet, faltering, one-sided conversation. valiantly trying to explain the bright light and its aftermath but in fact, making no sense whatsoever.

"You still live on Inkerman Drive?" the cop interrupted. “Tell you what, why don't we take you home, get you fixed up with a cup of tea? Things will look better after a cup of Rosey"

They placed him in the back seat of the patrol car like a fragile parcel. His incoherent stream of words petered out and he sat placidly staring down at his hands folded in his lap.

Most streets in England have a goodly collection of curtain twitchers and it's widely believed that they are more effective at collecting information than any police helicopter. They were certainly in in force when the patrol car pulled up outside of number 9, Inkerman Drive.

Sunlight reflected from bifocals behind bay windows.

As is often the case, one of these twitchers just happened to be Dick's wife and as he was being helped from the patrol car, she rushed out of the front door and along the garden path to meet him at the gate and to enquire as to his well-being.

“What the hell have you done now for God's sake?" she called out and grabbed him by the shoulder, wrestling possession away from the bemused policeman.

“Get inside for Christ's sake before any of the neighbours see you." Before she could offer up any more religious observations, she frog marched him into the house and slammed the front door behind them.

Not one, but two laughing policemen left the happy reunion and drove back to their station.

After a lengthy debriefing session at the kitchen table, Ada swore to him on all that she held Holy that she wouldn't reveal any of the preceding morning’s happenings, and to her credit, she resisted the temptation of the telephone fiercely.

It was almost two days later when the first reporter from the local paper (The Weekly Examiner) appeared on the scene, Press card in hand and photographer at shoulder.

As he began to introduce himself, Dick paused his rose pruning, leapt back, slid his secateurs into his back trouser pocket, and fled along the path at the side of the house. Reaching the back garden he promptly locked himself inside the small wooden shed leaving the conscientious news hound no alternative but to call at number 7,5, 3 and 11 Inkerman Drive to get some background observations on the man of the hour.

When the newspaper went on sale that Friday, the front page carried the headline "STARMAN?” above a photo of a shocked-looking Dick, menacingly waving his secateurs above his head, which had been taken seconds before he fled to the shed.

The picture was captioned "MILKY'S WAY." And whilst the story that followed was largely based on Ada's interpretation and gossip passed on by her friends and well wishing neighbours it did the job well enough and the weekly print run was sold out in record time.


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