Saturday 28 August 2010


Why the hell had I ever let myself get involved in this?

I pressed my body closer to the ground, trying to keep as low a profile as possible. I hadn't heard any movement for a while, but I was pretty sure they weren't far away, and they wouldn't stop looking until they found me. My uniform was soaked through, and the early evening chill caused me to shiver making it almost impossible to remain silent in the long grass.

It was hard to believe that it was only six hours since we had set out, eight of us, walking jauntily with all the arrogance of the supremely confident. Oh yeah, we were gonna kick some ass. Our weapons held loosely, grins on each and every one of our faces, actually savouring the anticipation of taking down the other side. There's nothing to equal the thrill of watching your rounds impact as the rifle recoils in your hands. Well, that's what I had been told.

The thrill and anticipation had long since evaporated, the only rounds I had managed to fire had hit trees, earth, walls, anything but bodies. We were outclassed, that was clear from the first time we made contact. Johnno and Fishy had both copped it in that first skirmish. Eliminated!

Eliminated! A very cold word, eh?

They had opened fire simultaneously from both sides of the track, taking us completely by surprise. Christ! We thought they were still miles away. I just set off running, firing blindly, panicking, this was nothing like the fun time I was supposed to be having. A quick glance to my right and I had a brief view of Fishy, his mouth wide open in surprise, his chest covered in an ever-widening pattern of red.

I continued running for several minutes, listening to the heavy footfalls of the men running behind me, the lack of slugs hitting my back told me that it had to be my own buddies. When we finally collapsed, breathless, into a patch of dense shrubbery, we were down to six. That was when I learned that we had lost Johnno too.

Johnno! He was the one that had got us all involved in the first place.
“We'll be dealing with total amateurs,” he had said “ It's not like they're military or anything is it? They're just weekend sodding warriors.”
Well it didn't seem that way to me now.

I shifted slightly to alleviate the numbness creeping into my hips, and reflected on the lows, and lows, of the day.

After a brief rest we had continued Northeast towards our objective, moving slowly, quietly, keeping low, our confidence slightly dented now

We had no idea where they were, how close they were, in front or behind? No matter, we had to push on.

Coupland was next, big Tony, no-one heard or saw anything, one minute he was bringing up the rear, the next minute he was gone. Just vanished. How the hell can you snatch someone who weighs eighteen stone, and walking through rustling grass, without making a sound?
Christ but they were good. Who the hell were these guys?

There was plenty of sound when Grimes got wasted. There was a light click, followed shortly after by a loud whoosh, followed immediately by his screams for help as he was dragged up into the air, and left dangling upside down eight feet from the ground.
He was still screaming in fear, and anger as the weapons opened up from the treeline, and dozens of rounds impacted into him, quickly turning his body and head into a dripping mess.

I was running again, trying to get to the woods I could see in the distance.
I remember seeing a flurry of movement out of the corner of my eye, as two camouflaged blurs took Fleming to the ground.

The sing-song chant of “Run rabbit, run rabbit, run run run...” Dwindling as I put more distance between us.

I nearly freaked completely when little Mark Fuller got snatched.
Bradley was several yards away taking a piss against a tree trunk, nervously trying to look in several directions at once.
Me and Fuller were whispering about what to do next...

There was a sudden, rapid thud of heavy boots, and this camo-clad goliath ran past, snatching up Fuller on his way, and without breaking stride disappeared off into the trees carrying poor wailing Fuller along with him.

I mean, what the...?

Its like fighting sodding ghosts!

That was it for Bradley, he'd had enough.
He set off running through the trees, I could hear him crashing his way through the undergrowth for a while, then abruptly the noise stopped. Just like that. Crash!... Crash!... Silence!

I remember throwing myself to the ground, and crawling slowly, pushing gently through the undergrowth, trying to avoid giving away my position. I crawled for maybe two or three hundred yards.

Then it started raining...

Oh, not just raining, but one of those showers that goes from a couple of spots, to an absolute deluge in about fifteen seconds. Soaks you through to the skin, then stops just as suddenly as it started.

For gods sake, could this day possibly get any worse?

I took stock of my situation.
Soaking wet, covered in mud and god only knew what other slimy shit... and alone.
Perfect! Just perfect!

I was just over a mile from the objective, and I had less than an hour to get there...

I could make it!

I listened intently for a few minutes...

Not a sound.

I lifted my head, very slowly, until I could just see through the tips of the grass...

Scan three sixty...


I was in the clear!


Slowly... Slowly...

Inching higher...

As I rose, they all rose with me...

I was completely surrounded, they had positioned themselves in total silence, and just waited...

* * * * *

The first slug hit me in the chest...

I could hear them all laughing as the rest of the weapons opened fire...

My whole head and torso vibrated with the impacts as eight magazines were emptied into me...

I was the last one, and they were making sure they got their money's worth.

And all the time they fired they were laughing... laughing... laughing...

I fell to the ground, a rolling, writhing lump of red, pink, blue, and luminous green...

I was glad it was all over, I just wanted to get cleaned up, and get to the pub.

There was one thing I knew for sure...

No way would I EVER put myself forward to go PAINTBALLING again.

©2010 Stephen. J. Green.

Friday 20 August 2010

A small wager

As I approached the taverna I could See Sotiris on the paved patio, sitting in the same chair, at the same table, his face turned to catch the early evening sun.

Was it really a whole year since my last visit? This was my twelfth holiday here, and almost every one of those holiday evenings had been spent at this taverna, in the company of these people whom I had come to love like my own family.

It now seemed like only yesterday since I last saw Sotiris. He looked as though he hadn't moved a muscle since then.

He was wearing his usual uniform of blue jeans, and a white shirt open at the collar, the sleeves rolled up to expose powerful forearms burned almost black by the mediterranean sun.
And, of course, his very expensive Ray Ban sunglasses.

“Yeia sou Sotiri my good friend, pos eeste?” I called as I walked across the marble.

“Steve, you are here again already, oh I am so happy that you are here.” A huge grin spreading across his lined, suntanned face.

He rose from his chair, and we embraced, and kissed each others cheeks. A tear of happiness threatened to escape from my eye as we hugged one another tightly with the great affection that we shared.

As he sat back down into his chair he called over his shoulder...“Eleni, Eleni, come outside... Steve is here...”

A few moments later Eleni bustled out through the taverna door, wiping her hands on her floral print apron.

“Oh Steve, welcome back, welcome back, we have missed you so much. Oh I am so happy to see you.”

We grabbed each other in a joyous grip, both laughing, and this time the happy tear did roll down my cheek.

We finally loosened our grip, and I took half a pace backwards, holding both of her delicate hands in mine. Looking her up and down.

“You are more beautiful each time I see you.” I said. The smile on my face threatening to split my head in two.

“And you are more handsome.” She replied playfully.“Now sit down with Sotiris, I will bring wine to celebrate.”

A few minutes later there was a plate of biscuits on the table, and we all held a glass of the local Robola wine in our hands.

“Yeia mas” We all cried together as we clinked our glasses.

As we sat there chattering away to each other, my mind drifted back to the first time we had met...

* * * * *

It was eleven years earlier that I had first set foot on the Ionian island of Kefalonia. The package holiday had been booked on a last minute deal, and it was purely by chance that I ended up here.

My lodgings turned out to be a small, and spotlessly clean studio in the Panos apartments at the northern end of a rather large, sprawling resort called Lassi.
On the second day, I decided to have a look at the island's capital, a town called Argostoli.
A glance at my tourist map showed me that Argostoli was only a fifteen minute walk away, up the main road, then down the other side of the hill straight into the town.

Or there was a coastal route around the peninsular, I imagined this would take the best part of a couple of hours, but I thought it would probably be a far more pleasant walk, and anyway, I was in no hurry.

I set off strolling along the coast road, which I later learned was known locally as the Fanari road, Fanaria being the Greek word for lights, and named after the lighthouse which was half-way along the road, and stood on a finger of land jutting out into the water.

A bottle of orange juice and a sandwich lay in the small knapsack which hung from my shoulders, as I intended to stop for a rest at some point for refreshment.

The views were absolutely stunning, the clear blue sea to my left, olive groves and the occasional bright white house, complete with colourful gardens and orchards to my right.
The sun pleasantly warming my body as I ambled along. Smiling and nodding to any tourists who passed walking in the opposite direction.

About an hour later I came upon a small taverna set only a few yards from the edge of the ocean.
A short rest and a glass of beer or wine seemed like a very good idea to me just now. The orange juice and sandwich would do for later. So I left the road and walked across the paved area towards the building.

A broad shouldered, middle aged local sat at one of the tables. He was wearing the attire that most Greek men adopted, blue jeans, white shirt, and sunglasses.

As I approached him he spoke to me, in almost accent-less English.

“Hello my friend what would you like? A glass of wine maybe? Or coffee?”

“I would like a glass of wine please, a local wine if you have one.” I answered sitting at the table next to his. “Would you like to join me in a glass?”

“Of course, efkaristo... thank you. Please, share this table with me... Eleni, krasi aspro parakalo.” He called to the open doorway.

A minute or two later a slim, attractive looking woman whom I would guess to be in her mid fifties came through the doorway carrying a tray, and placed on the table two glasses and a large jug of white wine.
She smiled pleasantly, bade me hello, and welcome, then excused herself to return to her baking.

I never did get to Argostoli that day, by the time the second carafe of wine was nearly empty I had decided to leave it until tomorrow, or maybe the day after.

We had sat and talked for hours, Sotiris and I, laughing and joking, I found his company so pleasant, it was like we had known each other all our lives.
In the space of this one afternoon we had got to know many things about each other, if destiny exists then I think it must have engineered our meeting.
I felt that today I had found a true friend.

At some point during the day, Eleni reappeared, and said goodbye to me, as she was going to visit her sister in Assos towards the North of the island.

The sun was beginning to set as I eventually rose to leave....

“Well Sotiri, I have enjoyed myself so very much today. I feel certain that we will see each other again before my holiday is over.”

“Oh I doubt that very much.” He said. A knowing smile playing on his lips.

“You seem very sure.” I said. Still smiling, but a little confused.

“Oh I am very sure.... If you don't believe me, maybe we should have a small wager on it?”

“Okay then, Shall we say ten euros?"

“Agreed” he said. And we shook on the deal.

* * * * *

The very next day I set off down the Fanari road once more, I hoped to repeat the enjoyment of yesterday, and also collect my winnings.

Sotiris looked intelligent enough, but he must know it was a wager he simply could not win.

If I didn't return to his taverna, he would win the bet, but would not be able to collect the money.

If I did return, then I won the bet, and collected the winnings at the same time, I simply could not lose.

The money involved was just for the fun of it, we could just as easy have made it one Euro, I was burning with curiosity as to why he thought I wouldn't return.

I was also aware that the Greek people were renowned for their impish sense of humour, and their love of practical jokes.

* * * * *

He was sitting in exactly the same spot when I arrived, I walked across the patio to him.

“Good afternoon again Sotiri.” I said.

He rose to greet me, holding out his hand, which I shook warmly.

“I am glad you came Steve, please, sit down, we will talk about my winnings once we have a glass of wine before us.”

I could barely contain myself as Eleni laid the wine and glasses on the table.
I was just itching to lay before him the flawless logic of how I had won the wager and not he.

This time Eleni had brought three glasses, and she sat with us in the sunshine.

“Now, about my winnings...” Said Sotiris, smiling like the cat who had got the cream, Eleni sat beside him, grinning her head off, obviously in on the joke...

“But I bet ten Euros that we would meet again, and we have met again, so I think you must agree that the wager was won by me.” I stated, smiling all the while, I was so enjoying this friendly banter.

“If you remember correctly my friend.” Said Sotiris, almost on the verge of laughter, as was Eleni. “You bet ten Euros that we would SEE each other again, and as you can tell, that is definitely not the case ...”

They both burst into uncontrollable peals of laughter as Sotiris removed his expensive sunglasses, to reveal two very opaque and very sightless eyes.

©2010 Stephen. J. Green.

Saturday 14 August 2010

An early start

We needed an early start in the morning, if there's one thing I hate, it's traffic jams, so I intended to make sure we set off in good time.

The camp site office was open from 8am onwards, and I had the journey planned to the last detail.

I meant to ensure that our drive down went with military precision. About four hours, I reckon, so to miss out on the bank holiday traffic, we would be setting off from the house at 4.00 am precisely.

The kids were already tucked up in bed, I thought they might have been too excited to sleep tonight, but, no, they had gone to sleep within minutes. The little darlings were going to have a whale of a time down there.

Lovely green countryside to look at, rolling hills, gentle walks along woodland trails, good clean country air to breathe.

Oh, I could hardly wait...

The site was highly recommended, and it looked absolutely fantastic in the brochure.

A fishing lake, children's playground, on-site shops and bar, the clubhouse laid on entertainment every night, and kids were allowed in there until ten o-clock, which would be fine, as we usually went to bed early anyway.
No point sleeping in and spending half of your holiday in bed, is there?

The wife was already in bed too, she hadn't been sleeping too well lately, feeling a bit stressed I think, well, the holiday would do her a power of good, take her mind off things for a while.
She had taken one of her sleeping pills about half an hour before going upstairs, good, it would ensure her a decent nights rest, she would probably sleep most of the way down too, the pills were quite strong ones, and sometimes after taking them she wouldn't wake until nearly lunchtime.

Everything was already packed into the estate car, couldn't be thumping about with the camping gear in the early hours, could I? The neighbours would have a fit.

Well, better turn in myself, I needed to be sharp tomorrow, I was the one that had to get us all there.

* * * * *

2:59. I woke up just in time to flick the alarm clock switch to the 'off' position before it went off, I wanted the wife to get as much sleep as possible. My intention was to leave waking her until the last minute and bundling her more or less straight into the car, that way she would most likely just drift off back to sleep again. The pill would probably help with that.

I crept quietly into the bathroom, and showered making as little noise as I could, wandering downstairs naked, I had left my fresh clothes on the armchair the night before, so that I wouldn't disturb her when I was getting dressed.

Thinking ahead. Planning. Planning. Up there for thinking... Down there for dancing...

3:30 I quietly went through the adjoining door into the garage, I gently lifted the up and over door, climbed into the car, released the handbrake and rolled it forward onto the driveway, getting out and leaving the door open, I gently raised the bonnet and latched it open.

Oil? Check!
Coolant level? Check!
Brake fluid level? Check!
Windscreen washer bottle? Full!

Quietly closing the bonnet, I sat back in the car and turned on the Ignition. All warning lights working okay. Fuel gauge? Full!
I started the engine, and whilst it was warming up, checked that all the lights and indicators were working, which meant leaning in and out several times to flick the switches, a few minutes well spent, preparation was the essence of a successful journey.

Lifting the tailgate I had a good look inside the back. Tent, box of tinned food, those site shops were notoriously expensive, so we trimmed a bit off the cost of the holiday by taking some supplies with us.
Four large holdalls with all our clothes in, fold up stools, yes everything seemed to be there, and why shouldn't it be? I had loaded it in ticking off each item on my checklist as it went into the car, not to mention a re-check at eight o-clock yesterday evening.

Planning. Planning. Up there for thinking... Down there for dancing...

I turned off the car engine, locked it up, and retraced my steps back through the garage into the house, locking both doors along the way.

I couldn't wait to get started...

* * * * *

4:03 I drove quietly out of the driveway onto the street, didn't want to wake the neighbours at this time of day, did I?

I was right about the wife, she had barely opened her eyes as I helped her to put her clothes on, shepherded her down the stairs, and out to the car.

She was dozing off again before I even had her seat belt fastened.

The only cars we saw on our way through the neighbourhood were stationary ones, the roads were absolutely dead, brilliant.

39 mph all the way round the ring road, wouldn't want a speeding ticket to spoil our holiday would we?

An occasional car, and heavy goods vehicle rolled past in the opposite direction as we neared the motorway, still making good time, I was a happy bunny, everything was going to plan.

I flicked on the CD player, turned the volume very low so I could just hear the gentle strains of classical music. Oh yes. A brilliant start to what was going to be a brilliant fortnight.

4:47. We turned onto the motorway only two minutes later than I had planned for, no problem, I increased the speed to 71 mph to make the time up. No traffic cop in the world would bother about the extra 1 mph on a motorway.

The motorway was slightly busier than the ring road, but still very quiet yet. More lorries and vans than cars, we were still making good time.

“I love it when a plan comes together” I said under my breath, smiling broadly.

The wife mumbled something to herself , and shifted slightly in her sleep. Bless her, she so needed this break.

7:14. We turned off down the sliproad at junction 23, I was ecstatic, we were actually four minutes ahead of schedule.

Planning! Planning! Up there for thinking... Down there for dancing...

Along the country lanes now, I was behind a large 4 x 4 for a few miles, keeping up with him, even though it was travelling 3 mph above the speed limit. No worries, I didn't expect to pass any speed cameras on this road.

7:51. I saw the first signpost for the camp site, 3 miles.

8:01. We turned into the camp site gate and pulled up at the office just as the lady was flipping the sign from 'closed' to 'open'.

The wife stirred slightly, opened her eyes, and looked around her with a confused expression on her face.

“Where are we? She asked, blinking the sleep from her eyes.

“We're here Darling, we're at the camp site, two gloriously relaxing weeks away from all the cares and worries here we come.”

I smiled broadly at her as she glanced over her shoulder at the back seat.

She spun round to face me, her face a mask of horror...

“What's wrong Darling?” I asked gently.

“THE KIDS ?” She screamed at me. “ WHERE THE HELL ARE THE KIDS?”

©2010 Stephen. J. Green.

Friday 6 August 2010

An untimely theft

Now, the first time I ever met Turner, he wasn't called Turner.

They wouldn't even tell me his former name. “ It's better not to know.” They said. “ He has too many bad memories associated to that name.”

“A new start, that's what he needs. A new name. A new life. Another chance.”

As we eyed each other through the bars, I could feel some kind of connection between us. Emotional? Mental? Psychological? Call it what you will, but in those first minutes something definitely clicked into place.

“You don't have to be afraid any more.” I told him. “ You're coming home with me. I'll look after you now. We'll look after each other.”

“Now, the first thing is to give you a new name, eh?”

I looked him up and down...

He was without doubt the biggest sodding dog I have ever seen in my life.

I don't know what breed he was, some kind of mastiff cross probably.
He reminded me of the slobbering hulk that Tom Hanks had in ' Turner and Hooch ' only he was about four stone heavier.
He was absolutely IMMENSE.

“Well!” I said to him. “How do feel about Hooch?”

Big mistake! His ears flattened to his head, his whole body tensed, and a low rumbling growl worked it's way up from the depths of his massive chest.

I stood my ground. I felt no fear. There was no threat to his actions.
He was just expressing his opinion of someone trying to lump him with a stupid name, that was all.

“Okay then, You don't look much like Tom Hanks, but how about Turner?”

Well, what a switch, his jaw hinged open into some kind of lopsided grin, with his tongue hanging out like a roll of wallpaper. Sitting back heavily on his haunches, he cocked his head to one side, and lifted a massive paw into the air.

I reached through the bars and gently grasped his proffered paw, “Pleased to meet you Turner.” I said, shaking hands with him.

“My name's Steve.”

* * * * *

Turner quickly settled into the life we now shared. I worked from home, scraping a living manipulating stocks and shares via the internet, so we were in each others company virtually twenty-four seven.

We ate together, went for long walks, he had brought a whole new meaning to my life.
For the first time in years I felt happy again.

Many an evening I sat there talking to him, telling him of my past, my hopes and ambitions, my fears.

Now, Turner had this way of looking at me when I was waffling on during these occasions, I swear that he could understand every word I was saying.
He used to lie there with his jowls resting on his oversized crossed paws, his big brown eyes staring straight into mine, with an air of intense concentration about him.

One of the aforementioned fears I told him about was the endless blight of burglary, and petty theft that continually plagued the housing estate where we lived.

I told him of the teenage gangs that roamed the streets unchallenged, at all hours of the day and night.
I told him of the drunken, drug-fuelled, thuggish intimidation, that turned the lives of decent residents into a life of never-ending total shit.

And I told him about the ringleaders...

The two chief gang-banger 'waste of spaces' that regularly amused themselves by 'borrowing' peoples cars during the night, and leaving them smashed and useless after they had finished their 'joyriding'.

Joyriding? Now there's a misnomer if I ever heard one. And the police would say “Well, we have an idea who it is, but we have no proof, have we?”

No! and they never would have any proof, at least not for as long as Malloney and Grogan were allowed to continue their campaign of fear.
Breaking the windows, and vandalising the cars and property of any potential witnesses, leaving the poor victims too afraid to do anything other than cower behind their curtains of a night time.

* * * * *

One day we were on our way home after one of our long strolls, Turner walking at my heel.
I never trained him to walk like that, he just did it of his own accord.
It would have been pointless having him on a leash anyway, he weighed more than I did, and if Turner was determined to go somewhere, That's where Turner went.

I had no fear that he would attack anyone, he never showed the slightest aggression towards man nor beast, let's face it, he could afford the confidence, who in their right mind would even dream of taking him on?

Well, we were about fifty yards from home, and lounging on the corner were Malloney and Grogan, along with another five smirking, sneering, hoodie-encased mother's little darlings.

“Put a sodding saddle on it! sodding big numb lump!”

This from Grogan, accompanied by loud hoots of sycophantic laughter from his entourage.

Malloney, not the brightest lamp in the street, must have felt the need to add his two-pennorth,

“Er, Yerrrr, big soft hairy slaver-bucket! Hur hur hur.”

Turner left my side and walked slowly into the middle of them, he didn't bark, he didn't growl,
he eyed each and every one of them in turn, a long, slow stare...

And one by one their gazes dropped to their scuffed trainers...

They shuffled their feet... their faces turned red...

When he had finished staring them all down,
Turner then let forth a loud raspy fart that seemed to go on forever...

Then, after checking that none of them dare look him in the eye again, he ambled nonchalantly back to my side.

I tell you! This dog had more sodding cool than the sodding Fonz...

I could hear them mumbling amongst themselves as we walked past on our way to the gate, but frankly, I didn't give a hoot! They had been put in their place!

* * * * *

Strange, and terrifying events took place a few days later...

Events that were to alter the lives of almost everyone in the estate...

Including mine...

And Turner's.

* * * * *

I was taking Turner to the vet' for a booster injection. We climbed into the car. Well, I climbed into the car, he squeezed himself through the back door, and sprawled himself across the fullness of the back seat, and it was a tight fit, I can tell you.

I was fiddling with my seat belt, when my elbow caught the door stud, causing the central locking to engage with a loud 'clunk'...

What happened next was beyond belief...

Turner changed into a snarling, bristling, hell-sent demon...

His mouth a gaping pit of razor teeth...

His eyes flaming coals of hatred...

the sound had triggered something in his memory... something very... very... bad.

It took several minutes of soothing words, and gentle stroking to quiet him, and I have no doubt at all in my mind, that, had anyone else been in the car with us, he would have ripped their heads straight off their shoulders.

He had been there on numerous occasions before when I had used my key fob to lock, or unlock the car, but he had always been on the outside of the vehicle.

This was the first time he had ever been on the inside when the locks had engaged.

I needed to address this problem as soon as possible to prevent it happening again.
The poor dog obviously had some terrible, and traumatic memories connected to being locked inside cars.

I would do anything necessary to prevent a repeat of this, Turner needed to know that he was safe from his past now.

It seemed to me that the best course of action would be to lose the central locking, so I decided that I would trade the car in the very next day for a lower model that didn't have the luxury of central locking.

I glanced over my shoulder into the rear seat, he was back to his old gentle self again, he was snoring quietly, his paws twitching occasionally as he dreamt his canine dreams.

We were almost at the vets, when I realized my wallet was still on the coffee table in the lounge.
Damn! I drove back through the heavy traffic, all the time getting more wound up. What had set out to be a relaxed drive, had turned into a race against time.

I was now in danger of missing my appointment... sodding hell!

I squealed to a standstill outside the house, and raced up the steps, quickly unlatching the door, and dashing into the front room

A glance at the table told me my wallet wasn't there...

where the hell was it?

I raced from room to room, getting more agitated as I went. Finally I found it on my second search of the lounge, yes, on the sodding coffee table, under a magazine.

As I turned to run for the door, I heard the familiar sound of my own car starting...

Oh no! In my haste I had left the sodding keys in the ignition...

I dashed through the door, and down the stairs to see Malloney and Grogan about to ride the joy out of my car!

I almost managed to get the passenger door open, but just as my fingers touched the door handle, Malloney, who was in the drivers seat, grinned at me triumphantly, then depressed the door stud engaging the central locking...

I watched with absolute horror as my car screamed away from the kerb...

And Turner's massive, snarling, tooth-infested head rose into view in the rear window.

©2010 Stephen. J. Green.