In the coastal town of Serene, Norfolk, Zack Collins works for Aurora Financial Services at the IT help desk. His life of simplicity is comfortable, with his girlfriend Eva, and his two friends Marshall and Jeff. However, things begin to go awry at a beach party when an unusual man shows up and forcefully tells Zack to ‘protect her’. In the morning, things get even more strange when Zack finds a woman named Madoka hiding in his shower of whom, to Zack’s surprise, is from 600 years in the future where humankind faces extinction and slavery by the artificial intelligence Zeydenians. With betrayal, danger, Zacks world falling apart, and his own fears eating himself alive, being held at stake is the future of all humanity. Zack inevitably finds himself risking his own life and suffering the dystopian world of the future. Madoka is then captured by the Zeydenians and Zack must reinvent freedom and undo the endangerment of humanity. Captivating, intense, and unsettlingly futuristic, Vanished is a masterpiece prediction of our dystopian future, filled with thrill and a touch of romance. You will be left speechless.
Vanished was self published on Amazon on 14th March 2021.
First 3 Chapters of Vanished.
I saw a man vanish today. One moment I was at the beach party. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people dancing in the moonlight, trance music blaring, neon body paint. Everyone was drinking, or getting high. Some were even getting naked. Except me. I was my group of friends designated driver for the night, sober as a judge. I saw a bright flash of light. Nothing unusual with that. There were enough party lights fuelled by generators, laser pens and glow sticks whizzing around in a blur. But this light came from the top of the cliffs. Just like a neon firework in the sky. A couple of minutes later a man ran breathlessly from the bottom of the cliff steps, looking frantically from side to side and then behind him. He was about 24 years old, 5'10" tall of athletic build with very blond hair and piercing blue eyes. He wore what appeared to be a black leather jacket, which bizarrely showed off the contours of his defined abs. I remember thinking that, even though it was night, it was a hot August night, and he must be so hot in that jacket. His trousers appeared to be leather too, but certainly didn't restrict his movement as he sprinted across the beach towards me. I stood there, on the sand, in my Arsenal shirt and shorts and a pair of flip flops, diet coke in my hand, watching him as he crossed the fifty metres or so of sand between us. I wondered if I had seen him before but couldn't place him. No-one else seemed to acknowledge his existence, all taken away by the trance music and their vice of choice. As the man reached me I saw he had a UV tattoo on the side of his neck which flashed as the lightshow swung in our direction. Cool. It was an inverted triangle with the number 69 inside it. It made me giggle a little. The man grasped both of my shoulders with both hands in a firm grip. He glanced back towards the steps quickly before looking me in the eye.
"They are coming," he said in an accent I couldn't quite place, "protect her." He tapped me on both shoulders as if we were old friends and then tore off down the beach before I could ask who. I watched as he ran around the edge of the dancers and then along the surf. I stepped closer to the sea to watch him as I took a swig of my drink. It appeared as if he were surrounded by an orange aura as he ran which grew brighter and then imploded on itself until a tiny orange dot was all that was left, hanging in the darkness. Whether it was my eyes adjusting or not, I don't know, but the dot appeared to just fade away like a spent firework. I don't know if anyone else took any notice. I only saw one guy who was near to the spot look briefly before staring at the roll up cigarette in his hand and then laugh out loud. I glanced back at the cliff steps just in time to see two dark figures at the bottom of the steps turn and run back up them and behind the trees at the first bend in the steps. What the fuck just happened?
* * *
Ouch! The alarm clock on Zack's phone shrilled out for the second time that morning. He'd already smacked it once, without looking, hoping that he had switched it off. It was all too apparent now that he'd only hit snooze. It was the weekend, Sunday morning, he didn't even need to be awake, but also found some solace in the fact that he could go back to sleep if he so wanted. He picked the phone up and touched the switch off icon on the screen. It was six a.m. Hell, he'd only been asleep for two and half hours since getting in from the beach party. Is that why he had such a headache? It couldn't be a hangover, surely, he'd only had one beer and then diet coke all night. But, oww, his head throbbed as if he'd been drinking vodka and red bull all night. In fact, he hadn't felt this rough since his twenty first birthday when the whole bar, at the end of the pub crawl, were convinced by his friends, Marshall and Jeff, to make a small contribution to an ever-growing line of shots along the bar of pretty much everything that the pub sold. He hadn't dared to drive for three days after that. But he shouldn't be feeling like this today. It felt so unfair to be feeling this way and not having enjoyed an alcohol fuelled night of debauchery the night before. He put it down to the lack of sleep sandwiched between five kilowatts of trance music and the shrill beep of his alarm. He cursed himself for not making sure that his alarm was unset before he went to sleep. Dawn was starting to slowly show through the gap in the curtain and the birds had started to chirp. He pulled his summer duvet up and scrunched his eyes together tight, hoping that he would be able to get back to sleep. It was highly unlikely that he would be able to drift into slumber again. His curtains lost the battle to keep the sunrise out, and his mind was racing about something he felt that he should remember. It wasn't quite coming to him just yet, but he had a feeling of excitement, confusion, and fear all at once. Zack looked around his room to see if anything sparked the inspiration he needed to help him to remember what he thought he should be able to. He took in the posters on his bedroom wall, a mixture of thrash metal bands and fantasy art. Nope, nothing coming to him yet. His collection of acquired beer glasses and eighties action DVDs on the shelf above his computer desk had the same effect. He put his feet on the floor and sat upright on his bed. A ruffle through his hair and the obligatory morning scratch of his balls, Zack stood up. Wearing just his Calvin Klein trunks he blearily walked across the room to his en-suite. He paused at his door. For some reason the fear emotion became the dominant emotion. This annoyed him as he still couldn't remember what he had to be fearful of.
"This is fucking crazy." Zack muttered to himself, before rubbing his eyes and depressing the door handle to walk into the bathroom. Zack opened the door and stepped into the en-suite. It was dark. He thought he could hear heavy breathing, and then realised that it was himself. Zack reached for the light pull string. As he pulled on the string until it clicked on the ceiling, the toilet in front of him became illuminated by the instant light from above. He heard a gasp from behind the door which he knew wasn't him this time. Zack jumped back out of the doorway into his bedroom, still facing the door. His heart was racing, and his breathing laboured as the fear emotion over-rode everything else. He stood one metre back from the doorway staring at the toilet in front of him, as if it were mocking him as it did the nights he'd had too much to drink. Only this time he was stone cold sober (with a throbbing hangover, go figure). The door was wide open, swung into the bathroom to the right. Along the wall behind the door was the bath and shower combo.
"Who's there?" Zack called out, trying to hide the fear in his voice, not terribly successfully though. There was no response. He took a quick glance either side of him around his room for a weapon. He saw none, he wasn't a weapon person. The only thing that vaguely resembled anything threatening was a realistic light up lightsabre his girlfriend, Eva, had bought him for the last Christmas. What alternative did he have? He could call his mother to his room to check his bathroom. He was twenty-four years old for God's sake, and considering yelling out for his mum, all five foot nothing of a grey haired fifty something housewife, to save his sorry arse. Nope, the lightsabre won. He backed up towards where he kept it, beside his computer desk, never taking his eyes off the door as he put more distance between it. His brain was running wild and he had convinced himself that if he looked away for even a second that some mythical creature, like a demon fairy or an imp, would dash unseen out of the room, and when he found the bathroom empty he would never be able to completely convince himself that there was never anything there. As he backed up against his computer desk he reached behind himself, fumbling around until he felt the hard plastic tubing of the lightsabre. Taking it into his hand and wielding it like a sword he felt slightly more confident and foolish at the same time. A misguided sense of reality began to tell him that his good morning piss was long overdue, and he edged towards the bathroom door.
"If there's anyone in there," he called out, unsure of what to say next, "erm, you should know...I'm armed and dangerous."
Zack had a plan. As he reached the en-suite door he paused. He tried to control his breathing to a silence and listen. After a few seconds of holding his breath he could only hear his heart pounding inside of him. He reached inside and took hold of the light pull cord, paused, counted to three in his head, and then gave it a yank. Plunging the en-suite into darkness he pressed the button to light up his toy lightsabre. A blue neon light rose quickly from the handle up to the tip of the tube, with a humming noise straight out of a Star Wars movie.
"RAAAAR!" He yelled as he jumped sideways into the room to face the bathtub and shower, the neon blue light casting an eerie glow in the room, reflecting off of the tiles. Zack then saw something he didn't want to see: movement; big movement; like a person sized movement ducking down into the bathtub.
"Oh shit!" He yelled in a slightly higher pitch. He retreated backwards until the backs of his legs connected with the toilet, causing him to sit down on the pan. All the willpower he could summon prevented him from peeing at that moment. He stared at the person in the bathtub.
"Who the fuck are you?" He asked. His left hand gripped the handle of the lightsabre whilst his right hand fumbled blindly in the dark for the light cord. When he found it, adrenaline coursed through him as he gave it a yank. Too hard, and the cord snapped away from the rose in the ceiling in his hand.
The figure slowly stood up in the darkness in the bathtub, all the more eerie for the blue glow from Zack's 'weapon'. Tall, slender, dressed in black leather with long, fine black hair cascading down it's back. Zack held his breath, stunned to the spot sitting on the toilet. It had its back towards Zack, arms stretched out at a forty-five-degree angle with long fingers splayed, as if to show him that it was holding nothing and meant him no harm.
"Ok, keep your arms out and the side and turn around," Zack mustered after he remembered to breathe, sucking in a deep breath, "slowly, no sudden movements. Remember I armed and dangerous."
"Zack Collins, I am not concerned with your toy." The figure spoke, slightly higher pitched than he had expected, and on this occasion, it took all of his willpower not to defecate as he had been called out.
"It's real." Zack said, although if he couldn't convince himself, how would he convince this......thing......that had found its way to his en-suite in the middle of the night.
"Yes, Mr. Collins, it's a real toy,” it spoke again, "I mean you no harm. I shall turn slowly as you wish."
Zack had no words. It was far too soon after waking up for him to be thinking on his feet in an incomprehensible situation, and he had exhausted all of his wit and ideas. The figure turned slowly anti clockwise, arms still outstretched and with no sudden movements, just as Zack had requested. It was when the figure had turned ninety degrees that in the blue neon hue of the room, Zack could make out the shape of breasts in the tight leather top, magnificent breasts, perfectly shaped. Zack realised that the figure was female, and his confidence grew a little and he no longer felt so threatened. He still maintained a firm grip on the toy lightsabre though. As the female continued to slowly turn, the neon light caught something on her neck underneath her hair.
"Stop." Zack commanded and the female stopped where she was. Zack stood up and approached the bath a little, still keeping within a lightsabre’s length away. "Raise your hair slowly on the left side."
The female brought her right hand towards her left elbow where her long hair rested, still leaving the left arm outstretched at forty-five degrees. Using the slenderest fingers that Zack had ever seen, she grasped as much of her hair as she could at the bottom and slowly raised her hand up, over her shoulder and then her head, taking her long hair with her, thus exposing her neck. Zack put the blade of the lightsabre closer and there it was, glowing under the neon light, an ultraviolet tattoo, shaped like an inverted triangle with the number sixty-nine inside it. Despite his fear, he still found humour in it, and smiled inwardly, and then recalled the encounter with the male who disappeared at the beach.
"Oh man, not another one." Zack groaned as he took a couple of steps backwards. "Step out." he told the female, a sigh of resignation in his voice. She stepped out of the bath as gentle as a model would step along a catwalk. In all of his twenty-four years he had never seen anyone step out of the bathtub so gracefully. She stood before him, perfectly still. She could not have looked any more beautiful if she were stark naked, but she wasn't, she was wearing the black leather outfit that clung to her contours as if it had been sprayed on. Zack took a step backwards out of the bathroom, never taking his eyes off of the female in front of him. Without instruction she appeared to follow slowly, at a pace that felt strangely comfortable, and ensuring that Zack's comfort zone was never put in doubt. Once they were both standing in the bedroom, Zack's eyes never leaving her body and occasionally glancing up into the bluest eyes he had ever seen, he realised that his toy lightsabre was fooling no-one. He put it down by his bed, still keeping his eye on her.
"Who are you?" Zack finally asked, believing that that was a question that should have been answered some minutes ago.
"I am Madoka." She replied, and there it was again, that accent that Zack could not place. How his head still hurt from last night. "And you are Zack Collins."
"I'm aware of who I am," Zack replied, "but how do you know that."
"We all know about you. You are the saviour of our people."
"The what? I'm sorry, I don't understand." Zack started to slip slightly out of his comfort zone. This woman was mesmerising, impossibly beautiful, but it worried him that she knew about him. It worried him that she was hiding in his bathroom. Had she snuck around his room whilst he was asleep? Had she seen his name written down somewhere. That would make sense.
"You save me." Madoka replied, almost with a hint of resignation that Zack should know all of this. "You guide us through the war."
"What fucking war?" Zack started to get annoyed, and then he had a thought, "Who put you up to this? Was it Marshall? Jeff?" He was about to add the name Eva, but then realised that his girlfriend would never implant a female so beautiful into his bathroom just to play a prank on him.
"So many questions Zack," Madoka said, "And we don't have time. I need to return in three moons, and you will show me how to win."
At this time, Zack's head had had enough. He figured this was a prank, he had a banging headache of university fresher’s week proportions, and despite the fact that he initially thought his life was in danger, he could think of worse ways to die than underneath this heavenly beauty. He sighed, sat back onto his bed, and rested his head in his hands. Madoka stood stock still, like a statue, just watching him. The silence became awkward, to the point that he almost wished she would pounce on him to break the silence. A small part of him smiled inwardly at the thought of wrestling with her in her leather get-up, even if he were certain that she would probably kick his arse in a heartbeat. Eventually he looked up at her again, into her eyes. She hadn't moved a muscle.
"Do sit down." Zack gestured towards the office chair in front of his computer desk. He was torn as to whether he wanted the space between them still, but also felt inappropriate asking her to sit on the bed with him. Madoka flowed gracefully towards the chair and sat down. She gave out a sigh as if she had never felt such comfort before, rotated on the chair to face Zack and then crossed one leg over the other before, finally, her body looked as though it relaxed. She looked Zack straight in the eyes.
"OK, let's start from the beginning." Announced Zack, before realising he had no idea where or what the beginning was. He decided to start with his bathroom. "How did you get in there?" He asked gesturing with his eyes towards the en-suite.
"I appeared." She replied. "I escaped them with my brother, and he brought me here to you. You are the saviour."
There she went again, mentioning the saviour bit, and completely throwing his train of thought when he had so many more questions. He ran his fingers through his hair, and shook his head as if trying to shake his questions back into order again, before slowly looking up and asking, "Who is your brother?"
"Echo. You met last night at the water."
Zack started to try and gather his thoughts about the encounter with the male at the beach. He'd believed that that was a figment of his imagination, hell there was so much weed smoke in the air last night at the beach that an elephant would have hallucinated.
"And do you have last names?" Zack asked.
"Madoka and Echo." Madoka replied, sounding a little confused at this line of questioning.
"No, I mean family names? Names you share with your parent’s blah blah blah?"
"We are not given family names. We are born into sectors and are numbered accordingly." Madoka replied.
Zack was unsure as to whether to buy this charade or not, still convinced, or hoping at least, that this was a prank set up by his friends, but she seemed too sincere and serious with her answers.
"So, what is your...." Zack thought for a second, "family number?"
"Sixty-Nine." Madoka replied
"Of course it is." Zack replied, and yet again his juvenile sense of humour crept a tiny smile onto the corner of his mouth. At that time, Zack heard the clattering of the vacuum cleaner being brought up the stairs and started to panic. He was twenty-four years old and yet he still panicked about his parents finding a girl in his bedroom.
"Zack, are you up yet!" He heard his mother call out. His eyes darted towards his bedroom door. Would he be able to dash across the room and silently turn the lock before his mother came crashing through with her OCD and vacuum cleaner?
"Shit! That's my mum, you've got to hi....." Zack hissed under his breath as he turned towards Madoka, only she wasn't there. His heart pounded out of his chest as he heard the squeak of his door creaking open. His eyes darted all around the room. Not a sign of Madoka anywhere. Had he imagined her. He turned to face his door, and his mother stood there in the doorway, the perennial grey-haired housewife wearing her cleaning pinny. Hands on her hips, she stood staring at him as he sweated and breathed heavily.
"Are you feeling ok dear?" She asked.
"Not really Ma, I feel a little under the weather today." Zack replied, still trying to scan the room without making his mum suspicious. Shit, he imagined he must look like he'd been smoking with the Rolling Stones all night the way he was acting, so he gave in. He rolled back onto his bed, closed his eyes. Things were way out of control, out of his control, he may as well close his eyes, If Madoka was going to kill him, so be it. If his mum was going to have a shit fit about him having a girl in his room, so be it. If his mum and Madoka were going to fight like Tekken, so be it. But nothing, silence, and then he heard his mum turn and walk away.
"I'll go and get my baby some hot honey." She called back as he heard he walk down the stairs.
What the fuck just happened?
Marshall rolled over in his bed. It was approaching 8am and he had had a heavy night. A truly heavy night of epic proportions. The beach party was always a blast, but he wished he could just remember getting home from one of them one day. His head hurt a little. He was starting to regret mixing his beer and cider to make snakebite and black drinks. As much as he loved the taste, he always suffered the next day, sometimes even the same day. The music from the night before was still resonating around his head. Deep Goan trance music. At least he thought it was still from the night before. He'd have expected it to stop after he'd opened his eyes.
Marshall Martin lived alone in a rented flat in Serene. Ever since he came to work there after leaving college for his apprenticeship with Aurora Financial Services as an Information Technology consultant, or computer fixer as he liked to call it. It was here that he first met Zack Collins, as a colleague, sitting opposite each other's booths with little headphones and microphones on, helping the whining banking contingent (who were supposed to be intelligent) every time they had a problem with their computers switching on, or could not manage to print a statement. They had been firm friends ever since Zack pranked him with a wireless mouse plugged into his terminal and ghosted the cursor across the screen whilst he was trying to remotely help the head of financial services. Along with Jeff, or JJ as they nicknamed him, they became an inseparable trio of drinking buddies. Which is what they had been doing last night. And, oh how it hurt this morning.
As the music continued Marshall rubbed his eyes and tried to focus. Opening heavy eyelids, he saw the flashing light of his mobile phone ricocheting across his bedroom walls. Staring at the flashing lights it still took a few seconds to dawn on him that it was actually his phone ringing he could hear and not the music from the beach party the night previously that was haunting his mind. He raised up onto his elbow and fought back a wave of alcohol induced nausea as his body moved. He paused, hoping his body would settle, and then weighed up which would hurt him the most; the continual shrill of his ring tone or the waves of sickness he was feeling. A few seconds later he surmised that he might be able to stop from vomiting, however, unless he answered his phone, he would not stop the head splitting ringing. Another push upwards and he leant towards the bedside table, took his phone and swiped the screen to answer it. Not looking at who was actually calling, his priority was to stop the noise, besides his eyes were a little unfocused on the screen in any case.
"err...mmm...Hello." Marshall muffled a response, half genuine as he felt rubbish, but in all honesty, half of it was put on too, hoping that the person on the other end of the call would feel his pain and not want to bother him any further.
"Marshall!" It was Zack, he sounded frantic, and totally apathetic towards the groaning in Marshall's voice. "What happened last night?!"
"Woooaaaahh, enough with the loudness dude," Marshall winced his eyes shut. His own voice even hurt his head. "Slow down." He heard Zack try to take a deep breath on the other end of the line.
"What happened last night?" Zack repeated, a little more in control of his voice at this time.
"Narrow it down a bit Zed, the details are ranging from a little hazy to non-existent at the moment" replied Marshall.
"The g..g..girl. Who is she?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about, are you sure you were the responsible one last night?" Marshall heard Zack exhale deeply on the end of the line. He racked his brains, to see if something, anything came to him about the night before, but to be honest, he couldn't even remember getting home himself.
"The girl in my room?" Zack asked slowly. He sounded exasperated, resigned, and desperate.
"Dude, I still have no idea what you're talking about. This sounds like something we need to meet up and discuss, but mate, I'm hanging big time at the moment. Can it wait?" Asked Marshall, "Plus, I have some business I need to attend to." A hint of boyish cheekiness in his voice. Zack knew exactly what he meant.
"Who's your victim today then?" Asked Zack, still panicked a little but pleased for the mind wander and distraction.
"No-one you know buddy. Shall we say two pm at the dog?"
"Ok, you better be there Marsh, no distractions, ok?"
"Don't worry Zed, my distractions will be finished by then, laters." replied Marshall and then he pressed end on the screen of his phone, cutting off the call.
Marshall didn't really need to look behind him in the bed, he could feel the warmth from another person under the sheets with him. He reached behind him with one hand and soon felt the smooth nakedness of another person behind him. His fingers touched a hip and slid up the side of the torso until his hand was cupping a naked breast and rolling a pert nipple between his forefinger and thumb. He heard an appreciative moan and turned to face the young lady in his bed.
"Did he know?" She asked sleepily, eyes struggling to open.
"He hasn't got a clue." Marshall replied, "Now, about this 'distraction'?" The female giggled as Marshall checked under the cover, rolled towards her so that their bare chests were touching, and leaned in to smother her with a kiss.
Zack sat anxiously on a stool at the bar of the Greasy Dog pub. The bar curved around the pub and he made sure that from his seat he was able to see the entrance door and the comings and goings of all patrons. He'd been there for a couple of hours already, favouring the company of the regulars than waiting at home with his mother for the crazy to start again. Although, when he spoke to Marshall, their arranged time was a few hours away, he actually headed straight out to, what was affectionately known as to his circle of friends, the dog. It felt good to actually consume some alcohol and have a cold beer, having been the sober one the night before, and he thought a head start would give him leeway to blame it on the alcohol when his friends called him a raving lunatic. He had called, what he would call his sensible friend, Jeff Jackson, from the bar and asked him to join them. Jeff was a sceptic and quite often the voice of reason, the complete opposite of Marshall being the joker and wind-up merchant. He'd also tried to call his girlfriend, Eva, but wasn't getting an answer, so sent her a text message asking her to join them. He felt that she needed to be there when he had to tell his friends about a female hiding in his bathtub when he woke up. He would hate for her to find out through a third party and have a lot of explaining to do.
The greasy dog had been independently owned for the last six years, pretty much the same time that Zack could legally drink in pubs. He preferred it to many of the other pubs in Serene town as it wasn't a part of a chain and had a local feel to it. It was a straight up, order at the bar job, no fancy apps for ordering overpriced food at your table and no corporate bullshit. The staff worked there because they liked the vibe, and not because they'd attended a three-day induction course on customer service and standards. They served a rotating selection of real ales, giving the local breweries a chance to experiment and garner a cult fanbase. The pub was right on the seafront, close to Serene pier, and had some outdoor benches overlooking the North Sea, the beer was cheap, and yet it was not very popular with the tourists during the summer season. This was largely due to the local biker gangs adopting it as their favoured watering hole, and the live music at weekends being predominantly hard rock and heavy metal based. Zack liked that he knew most of the people who frequented the dog, and could always have a chat with anyone. Despite what anyone thought of heavy metal fans, and no matter how scary they looked, they were always quite civil, polite, and in most cases quite intelligent.
"Another one?" Came the voice from behind the bar. Zack looked up to see Big Jim, landlord of the Greasy Dog, looming over him. Nobody messed with Big Jim, at six foot four tall, and at least three feet wide, heavily tattooed, and pierced pretty much everywhere, he was solely the reason no-one had ever really caused any trouble within the greasy dog. The licensing sign above the door named him as James Postlethwaite-Arbuckle, but anyone caught calling him James was bounced straight out of the door. Big Jim it was. Marshall had once had the drunken misfortune to call him BJ once and only just lived to regret it. Since then, Marshall had never really liked to sit right next to the bar, within earshot (and arm’s length) of Big Jim.
"Yes please." Zack replied and Big Jim instantly handed him a pint of snakebite and black. Zack looked at the drink and then up at Big Jim. "You look like you need to get wankered mate."
Zack took the drink from the hand of Big Jim, politely nodded, and started to down it in large gulps. He was about halfway through the pint when he heard a voice to the left of him.
"Ello handsome," he turned to see Eva standing beside him, still wearing the drop dead gorgeous white halter top, and ripped blue jeans that she had been wearing at the party. He gave her a tight hug from the comfort of his bar stool, not yet daring to try and stand up, and then had a mini panic attack at the realisation that he hadn't seen her enter the bar, if someone as beautiful as Eva could approach him unnoticed, who else had come in without his knowledge. His eyes quickly darted around the pub until he was satisfied that he was safe.
"What's up with you?" Eva asked, "You're acting a little disturbed."
"I am, you won't believe the morning I've had Hun." Zack started. Eva cocked her head to one side slightly as she looked at him, and he paused, wondering how to break it to her that there had been another woman in his room, against his wishes and knowledge. Would he be able to get that into the conversation before the fireworks started? She was looking exceptionally beautiful today. At twenty years old, she was younger than he was, and had started working at Aurora Financial Services during the previous winter as a call taker. He plucked up the courage to speak to her around the water dispenser, so cliche, and the conversation flowed smoothly. He soon discovered that they shared a love for extreme music and that she was the one who had mesmerised him at a Suicidal Angels gig at the University of East Anglia student bar the previous summer, where she had been studying. On that occasion she had been dressed in a skimpy navy and white outfit, much resembling a Japanese schoolgirls outfit which was tied off at the front with a long grey scarf that her friends would lead her around with, and thigh length black stockings showing a generous amount of thigh. She obviously dressed a little more reserved for work, but still sported the same beautiful navel length blonde hair tied into pigtails and held back with a navy headband, which always reminded him of the navy outfit he'd first seen her in. She had beautiful blue eyes and what he would describe as an up mouth, with a perennial cheeky grin. Slim, and only slightly shorter than Zack, she shared his love of computer games, metal music and science fiction. She was the ultimate hot geek. Zack was lost in his thoughts, captivated by Eva's beauty, when she spoke again and brought him back to reality with a thud that triggered anxiety to course through his heart and catch his breath, no matter how innocent her question was.
"So, are you going to tell me Zack?" Eva asked, the teeniest hint of impatience in her voice. "What's with the cryptic text message and rendezvous?"
"Promise me you'll let me finish first?" Zack pleaded, which already brought the defensive walls up around Eva as she folded her arms and stared at him.
"Just out with it Zack, what has happened?" Eva asked, the initial cheeriness in her voice when she first entered the pub seemed deflated now.
"Well......this morning.......I...erm" Zack stuttered and stumbled. As if he hadn't already had a bad enough day.
"Howdy partner, so what did this girl look like?" Marshall had arrived and approached Zack from the rear. Shit, Zack did not need this right now.
"What girl?" Eva asked harshly, her arms folded tighter, "Did you fuck someone else last night?!"
"N...No," Zack stammered. It was the truth, but it didn't sound like it. He wasn't able to finish his protestations of innocence.
"Man, you didn't even bone her? What a tragic waste." Marshall interjected. Continually referring to Madoka with references to sexual intercourse was not helping to explain what had happened to Eva. Zack looked flustered, resigned, and stared, almost in a trance at the floor. His heart pounded and anxiety levels raised. He knew that every second longer it took for him to attempt an explanation would seem like a second longer he was using to fabricate an elaborate story to Eva. It didn't help that the truth he was going to have to explain was so far out there that it was going to sound like a fabrication in itself.
"Will someone just tell me what the fuck is going on?" Eva demanded and threw a death stare at Marshall, who backed off a little with both arms raised and palms outwards, as he turned to face the bar to order a drink.
"It's not what you think," Zack feebly offered, looking up into Eva's eyes. She didn't look any less pissed off. Zack noticed her eyes glance off very quickly to the right, before returning to focus their glare on him. There was an awkward silence for a few seconds. "When I got up this morning there was a strange lady hiding in my bathtub." There it was. The ice was broken. Zack waited for a response to feed off of.
"I'm sorry," Eva's sarcasm was not lost on Zack, "can you run that by me again?"
This wasn't going to sound any better the second time around. Zack struggled for anything extra to add.
"When I got up this morning there was a strange lady hiding in my bathtub." Zack offered again, "I didn't fuck her, honest to God I didn't fuck her. I have no idea who she is, was, or how she got there." The flood gates opened, as Eva continued to stare at Zack. He reached out from his bar stool and softly put a hand on each of her elbows, hoping to entice her to relax a little, whilst all the while staring into her eyes. As painful as it felt to see the pain and anger in her eyes, he had learnt from a young age that the truth was always more believable if you maintained eye contact. The only problem was that he struggled himself to understand the truth of what had happened to him. Eva's arms lost a little of their tenseness, although her eyes continued to stare deeply into his soul with a huge degree of suspicion.
"You'd better tell me exactly what happened." She stated, still looking massively unimpressed. "I'll know if you're bullshitting me, and God won't help you if you are."
"Ok," Zack began, this was starting the feel a bit warmer, "Shall I start from the beginning?"
"That's a fucking great place to start." Eva added. Damn, she looked hot when she was mad. Make up sex was always the best, but now wasn't the time or the place for that. Zack spotted Jeff entering the pub, amazed that in his time of acute personal safety awareness he'd actually spotted someone approaching him. Jeff, the reliable one, was always fashionably late in a kind of unfashionable way.
"Jeff's here. Shall we get some drinks in and take a booth, save me keep repeating this?" Zack braved taking a pause and exhaled deeply when he realised the shouting wasn't going to start. Eva just stared at him, turned and walked towards a booth and table near to the window. She sat on the bench and slid across to the window, staring intently out of it. Zack turned to face the bar and saw Big Jim staring down at him.
"A glass of Merlot please Jim, better make it a large one."
"Are you sure? That's more glass that can be jabbed in your neck." Big Jim joked.
"You're not gonna let that happen, are you Jim?" Zack replied, grateful for the light-hearted banter at his predicament.
"It may well be out of my control, sounds like you're fucked sunshine." Big Jim offered with his back to Zack as he searched for a large wine glass. Zacks heart sank a little again at the gravity of his situation as Big Jim turned to face him again, "Just don't get any blood of the carpet." Big Jim finished pouring the wine and handed the glass to Zack. Money exchanged hands and Zack realised Jeff was standing beside him. He'd bought his drink at the other end of the bar to be served by Angel the barmaid, who he secretly had a massive crush on. Marshall turned to face Zack again.
"Sounds intense man." Marshall stated with a boyish grin on his face.
"Did you prank me this morning with a lady in the en-suite?" Zack asked Marshall directly, looking into his eyes.
"Nope. Fucking wish I'd thought of that first though mate, sounds classic." Marshall replied.
"Then I have no more questions for you, this is going to be difficult enough as it is." said Zack.
"I'm not missing this for the fucking world." Marshall stated as he picked up his beer and followed Zack and Jeff to where Eva was sitting, and still staring out of the window. Zack slid along the cushioned bench towards the window so that he was facing Eva across the table, followed by Jeff as Marshall took the seat next to Eva. Zack placed her wine in front of her as she turned to look at him. There was a hint of sadness in her eyes, and she then looked down at the glass of wine before reaching for it. All eyes were on Zack.
"I'll explain from the beginning..." Zack started, "What I can remember." No-one else spoke so he continued. "It started last night at the party," a flash of hurt run across Eva's face, "but it's not like that," Zack continued as if he could hear what she was thinking. "Whilst you lot were getting pissed and completely out of it, I was completely sober. This man approached me on the beach, running at me, grabbed hold of me and said take care of her, or something like that, I thought nothing of it at the time. He appeared nervous and ran off towards the surf, and then I swear to God, he just fucking vanished, just like that." He had their attention, not necessarily their belief, but nobody was calling him out as yet. "I can't explain it, it's like he was afraid of something. I thought I saw two other people out of place too, they got to the beach and then ran up the cliff steps again, and I saw a bright flash of light at the top soon afterwards. I carried on partying, then gave you all a lift home, as you know, and then I went home. Alone." Still no-one spoke. Zack looked around at all of their faces. He wasn't sure whether to be grateful or afraid of the lack of response. Sure, no-one was calling him crazy just yet, but he knew that there was more to come. He continued, "So, this morning I wake up. Alone." He emphasised this again looking directly at Eva before continuing, "I had very little recollection of last night, a massive, completely undeserved, hangover, and a sense of dread about the en-suite bathroom. I didn't feel as alone as I should be. So, I went to the bathroom with the light sabre you bought me...." he was looking directly at Eva as he said this, but the next voice came from his right.
"Wait, wait, you went to check on your bathroom with a fake light sabre from the Disney store?" Marshall stifled his giggle, "That's the funniest fucking shit I've ever heard man."
Zack fired a glare at Marshall who went back to the business of sipping his beer.
"And, to cut a long story short..." Zack continued
"Please do." Came the curt response from Eva.
"There was a lady hiding in my bathtub. I have no idea how she got there, I thought some wanker had spiked me and set up a prank," Zack didn't have to mention Marshall by name, they all knew who he was referring to, "I got her out of the bathroom, she spun me a tale about how I'm supposed to save her people in the future, time travel and stuff, and then my mum called up the stairs. When I turned around, she had vanished. I phoned Marshall, tried to phone you Eva, sent a text, and phoned Jeff, and here we are. I have no idea what has happened. I have not cheated. I am going out of my fucking mind, and as crazy as it sounds, I need you all to believe me." Zack exhaled, he was up to the present moment, and rather uneagerly awaited the laughter, shouting, whatever response he felt should follow a story like that. But it didn't come, everyone seemed to just absorb the tale as they took a sip from their drinks, or in Marshall's case, downed the last half a pint.
"Who's for another?" Marshall asked as he stood up to walk to the bar. No-one answered. With a shrug of his shoulders Marshall walked to the bar alone.
"Who is she?" Finally, Jeff broke the silence. Zack was glad that it was a reasonable question that didn't doubt him.
"I have no idea." Zack replied "She said her name was Madoka or something similar, she believes that I am the saviour for some reason, she knew my name and everything. I thought it was a big wind up, or I'd been spiked last night, but I managed to drive home safely. I just don't know what to think." The one person Zack wanted to say something, had remained silent. The one person whose opinion he wanted the most, hadn't proffered one as yet, and that left him feeling uneasy. The not knowing what was coming next from the girl that he loved. Finally, Eva broke her silence.
"What did she look like?" Eva asked without looking up from her glass. Zacks heart broke for her, a million guesses at what she must be thinking, and none of them positive, ran through his mind.
"She was tall, slim, long dark hair, fully clothed throughout I might add, and had a strange neon tattoo on her neck, just like the guy I saw at the beach. Apparently, that's their family number. She spoke perfect English but with an accent I didn't recognise. And that's about it. She just.......vanished."
"Was she pretty?" Marshall had returned from the bar with a new pint in hand, "I mean, would you?"
"Can we please try and have a grown-up conversation?" Zack knew exactly what Marshall meant and felt that it was not an appropriate time for lads’ banter, "I'm having a very difficult time of this. It either means I'm involved in something supernatural, or the other alternative is that I've lost my fucking mind. Neither option seems appealing to me, and it's hurting Eva more than me right now." Zack glanced over to Eva. She had no tears but a look of melancholy on her face.
"What was she wearing?" Asked Jeff. Zack expected him to go on the sceptical attack any minute now, but he would gladly welcome any input that put his mystery to bed right now rather than engage in the usual drunken conspiracy theory debate with him.
"Erm, it appeared to be some sort of perfect fitting leather outfit. I remember the guy last night being dressed in leather too I think." Zack replied, looking up at Jeff and then following his gaze out of the window just in time to see someone clad all in black walking up the steps and through the entrance onto Roseshore pier.
"Wait, wait!" Zack began to act frantically, staring out of the window, getting himself up into a half stand, restricted by the top of the table holding his thighs down. He looked around at all of his friends and they just stared back at him passively as if he were losing his mind. Nobody wanted to make any sudden movements. " Did you see her?" He asked, pointing towards the pier whilst not actually looking at it.
"See who?" Asked Eva
"Her! The girl! Madoka! Move move move move." Zack was gesturing at Jeff to let him out of the table. Jeff didn't move fast enough, and it seemed like eternity, but in his panic no speed would have been fast enough. Jeff stepped aside and Zack was out, moving towards the door of the pub. He would prove to them; he would prove that he wasn't insane. He would get to the bottom of this prank, and most importantly, Eva would learn that nothing happened. Were they behind him still? Who knew? The sunlight hurt Zacks eyes as he ran from the pub and crossed the promenade towards the pier entrance.
* * *
Zack ran up the steps two at a time and in less than five steps he was standing at the entrance of Serene pleasure pier. Flanked by two Victorian art deco shops, one of which doubled up as a box office, linked together by a roof structure held up by paint peeled concrete pillars, the wooden pier beckoned. Zack stood in the shade of the entrance tunnel to get his breath back. Damn, he was out of shape. He stood at the precipice of solid land and looked ahead at the wooden boards suspended above the beach and eventually the North Sea. He'd always been a bit afraid of the pier since a child, for childish reasons. People ventured onto it daily in complete safety, but he always envisioned that he would fall between the cracks in the boards and into the sea below whenever he could hear and see the surf between the wood. He surveyed the area ahead. It was a warm summer Sunday afternoon, and the pier was full of people, a sea of personalities, young and old, excitable and bored, all forming an ever-changing human assault course along the pier. The flow of traffic worked in every conceivable direction. With the added obstacle of a stream of anglers casting out into the sea along the outside railings of both sides of the structure. Far along the pier, beyond the stalls selling popcorn, candy rocks and ice cream to a throng of children rushing around like a swarm of bees, as if they'd had too many sweets already, he saw her. Approaching the theatre at the end of the pier he saw the tall slender figure clad all in black, never looking back, long black hair flying lightly in the sea breeze that crossed the pier. Zack set off, sprinting towards the figure as best he could amongst the hundreds of day-trippers currently occupying the pier as if they owned it. Hurdling over the outstretched wheels of unpredictable pushchairs he made slow progress towards the theatre.
"Madoka!" He called out, feeling slightly stupid, as it was hardly a modern English name. There was no response as the figure started to walk around the side of the theatre towards the end of the pier. Zack lost sight of her as he negotiated his way through the aluminium tables and chairs full of people enjoying a cream tea and scone from the theatre’s coffee shop. He was whacked in the face by a flag advertising the ice cream from the coffee shop and battled with the flapping nylon like a scene from a comedy film. When he pulled his face free of the flag, he had lost sight of Madoka. He rushed to the narrow footway along the side of the theatre. She wasn't there. With a clear run to the back of the pier he sprinted to the end. Nothing. All that stood between himself and the North Sea was the lifeboat launch. He looked around in all directions, frantically. He rushed along the back of the theatre and looked down the other side to see if she had double backed on herself, but she was not there. In any case that wouldn't make any sense, but he was starting to think that nothing made any sense. He ran back to the lifeboat, perched on the launch, looking through the windows, to see if she had boarded the vessel at all. Nothing, as he got to the front of the boat, he saw a man sitting in the cockpit of the boat. A man, with a big bushy beard, wearing an orange, fluorescent jacket. Clearly not Madoka.
"Have you seen a lady come by here?" Asked Zack
"Nope." Replied the boat man, a man of very few words. Zack felt that he was losing his mind and made his way back to the back of the theatre, looking over the rails to make sure she hadn't gone into the sea on either side. Nothing. He stood on the wooden boards, clutching his head and turning in circles. What the fuck was going on. As he turned towards the side of the theatre, he saw Eva, Jeff and Marshall staring at him. He stopped turning, still clutching his head.
"She was here." He feebly offered, trying not to imagine what they thought of him.
"Who was?" Jeff was the first to speak.
"The girl, Madoka, you saw her Jeff," Zack recalled Jeff looking out of the window of the Greasy Dog which took his attention to the pier too.
"Where is she now?" Asked Eva, arms folded again.
"I.....I.....I don't know," Zack wished he had an answer, "she just......vanished."
"Can you take me home please?" Eva had turned to Marshall and continued turning until she had her back to Zack and walked away, along the side of the theatre.
"Sorry Bro." Marshall shrugged his shoulders towards Zack and then followed after Eva.
Jeff remained, staring at Zack, who remained rooted to the spot, questioning his sanity, still clutching at the top of his head with both hands.