It was a horrible night, the kind of night sensible people stayed indoors, keeping warm and dry. The rain did not fall; it was hurled sideways on the wind. Only complete fools or those with urgent work to do would be out on a night like this.

A sports car was hurtling up the winding road clinging to the side of the glen, racing faster with every twist and turn. Its headlights tried in vain to push back the darkness as it shot past a sign bearing the silhouette of an animal and splashed through a stream that had burst its banks.

Ben barely noticed the triangular sign. He was in no mood to heed any warnings. The news he’d just received had shaken him to the core. He had to find her; had to save her from the horrifying fate that awaited her.

Looking back, he remembered how he’d dismissed the old man as a crank. But the stranger had persisted, calling time and again, refusing to take no for an answer. He begged Ben to see him. When Ben finally agreed, the stranger insisted on meeting in a small hotel in the north-west of Scotland.

“Why so far away?” asked Ben.

“It will be safer; and it will help you remember.”

“Safe from what; remember what?”

The stranger did not elaborate.

A dark winter’s day was already turning to night as Ben arrived at the hotel. Walking towards the dimly lit building, he wondered how a man he’d never met, from a country on the other side of the world, could know what he dreamt. He found the stranger in the bar, anxious to begin. As the man started his story, Ben was sceptical; it all seemed too fantastic. But he began to waver as the stranger described recurring elements of his childhood nightmares as if he’d witnessed them first-hand. Eventually, Ben allowed the stranger to put him into a hypnotic trance. And it all flooded back... everything.

Coming out of the trance, Ben fired a barrage of questions at the stranger. It soon became apparent the woman he loved was in terrible danger. “I must go to her at once,” he jumped to his feet, “I can’t risk waiting a moment longer.”

“But, how will you find her?” asked the old man as Ben headed for the door.

“I don’t know, but I will. Somehow, I will.”

As Ben sped around another bend in the treacherous road, a stag stepped out of the darkness, only yards in front of him. He stamped on the brake in desperation, but it was too late. The majestic beast towered over him like a monstrous demon, its fourteen-pointed antlers glistening in the headlights.

‘I’m going to die,’ he thought.




The music was loud, but beautiful, and strangely familiar. He was floating with it on a wave of emotion. There was joy and love but, oh my God, there was pain and sorrow, and aching despair. Strongest of all was the sense of loss.

He couldn’t go on. The music stopped. He had stopped it. Silence fell, followed by darkness. The darkness deepened, becoming a void of nothingness. It was calling him, telling him this was where he belonged; welcoming him home. It was powerful, its pull strong. He was falling into it.

Another presence was calling him, something warm and caring, filled with love and light. He needed to find it; cherish and protect it. He tried to reach out to it. But the void would not let him go.

For a long time, he was held by a strange tug of war, neither falling deeper nor escaping the void. Then the presence above grew stronger. He began to rise, slowly at first, gradually faster, until he surged upwards. As he left the void behind, he could feel its anger. He knew it would be waiting for him, waiting for another chance.

It grew lighter: still dark, but no longer the void. He sensed pain, anguish, and fear ahead. But it was the only way to reach the presence he sought. So he allowed the lighter darkness to envelop him.


Susan hurried along the corridor, eager to see for herself. As usual, she’d woken early and checked the hospital intranet. After reviewing her other patients, she’d tapped the tab labelled ‘Carlton, Ben’, with little hope of seeing any change.

It had been over a month since Carlton was brought to Princess Diana Memorial. For days, they’d battled to save him while he hovered on the brink of death. Eventually they’d been able to stabilise him, and now his body was beginning to mend. But that was only part of the story. He’d suffered severe head injuries in the crash and been in a coma since, with no sign of recovery in brain function. Until last night, that was.

A single spike in his brainwaves, that was all, but it gave Susan hope. It was something she could build on, something she could use to fight his corner. The pressure had been mounting to remove life support and let him slip away, but that spike would buy her time.

She hated losing patients, any patient, but something about Carlton made her more determined than ever. She’d never seen a case like his before. No-one could explain why he’d survived when, right from the start, her experience said he would die. Somewhere inside, there was a spirit, a force, a God-knows-what, defying the odds, and it wouldn’t let go. Reaching the doors of the intensive therapy unit, she shrugged to herself. Whatever it was, she was going to do her damnedest to help it bring him back.

“My shift finished twenty minutes ago, but I thought I’d wait for you,” said the nurse as Susan entered. She looked Susan up and down, “You’re brave, Worthington won’t be happy you’re wearing scrubs.”

“Screw Worthington; they’re comfortable, hygienic, and they provide the added pleasure of pissing him off.”

The nurse laughed, “Yeah, there’s a lot to be said for that.”

“So, any more news on Carlton?”

“No,” the nurse shook her head, “only that one spike. Probably just a glitch, I reckon. You know how some of the monitors do that now and then. Minster got awfully excited though, started shouting, ‘Look, he’s alive,’ like something out of Frankenstein.”

“I take it you wrote the entry in Carlton’s notes?”

“I had to, Minster hadn’t got a clue. Some of these junior doctors are about as useful as a chocolate teapot. Honestly, I think he only bothered checking the monitors to try to impress me. I hope to Christ he doesn’t make another pass.”

“You shouldn’t be so hard on him; he only wanted to take you out to dinner.”

“Huh, I know what he wanted. Well, I’ll be off anyway, unless there’s anything else you need?”

“No, you get off home, Jenny. Thanks for waiting.”

The nurse paused at the door, looking back, “How are things going with Ray by the way?”

“Yeah, good,” Susan nodded; “we’re both off next weekend, I’m gonna stay over at his place. He’s promised to cook me something special.”

“Sounds great; well, I’ll see you tonight then, I expect.”

Susan watched Jenny go then went to take a closer look at Carlton. She studied the monitors clustered around his bed, making notes on her tablet. With a sigh, she realised Jenny was probably right, that spike may have been no more than a glitch. Apart from that momentary exception, there was no indication of brain activity. They may have saved his body, but where was his mind?

Glitch or not, she wasn’t ready to give up. There was still hope. Gazing down at Carlton, she felt a sense of wonder at how he’d defied the death that should have claimed him a month ago; how he’d hung on to life. She felt something else too: an odd feeling she couldn’t put her finger on, but she sensed it every time she was near him.

Shaking her head, she started to turn away. Then, without really knowing why, she turned back and whispered, “Come on, Ben; come back.”


Pain; terrible, agonising pain

For a time, the pain was the only thing he was conscious of. He was floating alone in the Universe with nothing but his pain.

There was a thick fog around him. He was floating in the fog, with his pain, but still he was a shapeless, ethereal being, unsure whether he was alive or dead, or even what the difference was.

Slowly, he began to take physical form. He became aware he had a head and he turned it to look at his body. Something was wrong, he knew that much, but he couldn’t see past his waist, the fog was so thick he could only see a few inches.

At last the fog began to clear. Maybe it wasn’t fog. No, it was smoke. He peered downwards. He could see a little further now, but there was still nothing below his waist. Then he knew what was wrong. There wasn’t anything past his waist; his legs, his entire lower body, were gone. He flopped back onto the sand and waited to die as the others ran up the beach into the maelstrom of shells and bullets.


Susan was furious. She could barely concentrate on the rush hour traffic. How dare that bastard put her in such a difficult position! She could feel the anger seething within her. No doubt it was responsible for the thumping headache she’d woken up with.

She’d gone to Ray’s place on Friday as arranged. Everything had been fine until they’d been relaxing after dinner, when he’d produced the white powder and started spreading it out on the coffee table, using a knife to divide it into neat lines.

“Er... that’s not what I think it is; is it?” she laughed nervously.

“Yeah, just a bit of coke to give us a buzz before we hit the bedroom. You wait; you haven’t experienced anything ‘til you’ve climaxed on coke.”

“I, er... I don’t do drugs. I mean I smoked a bit of pot at university, but I’ve always kept away from anything harder. You never know what it might do to you. I’d hate to get addicted. We can’t anyway, we’re practising neurologists. It would be completely irresponsible, not to mention likely to get us struck off.”

“Chill out, babe, it’s harmless. I’ve been doing it for years; it’s never done me any harm.”

“Oh yeah, and what about your patients; don’t tell me you’ve been at work with that stuff in your system?”

“Don’t be such a square; lots of people do it.”

“Well, I’m not doing it. Look, Ray, I think I’d better go, I’m not comfortable with this.”

“Go? After I cooked you dinner, forked out for champagne and a couple of grams of top quality coke? No, you’re not going, you’re gonna snort some coke and have the fuck of your life.”

“No, Ray, I’m going,” she started to get up, but he grabbed her wrist and pulled her down. He pushed her back on the sofa and leaned over her, “You’re not going, you’re gonna stay and have some fun.”

“Let go of me,” she gasped, struggling against him. She was frightened by his reaction, afraid what he might do next.

He picked up some powder on the blade of the knife and held it under her nose, “Come on, babe, take a snort, you’ll love it.”

She turned her head to the side and took a deep breath. Turning back, she blew the powder into his face. He jumped back, coughing and spluttering, “What the fuck. You stupid bitch, that stuff costs a fortune.”

“Well it’s not gonna cost me my career,” she snapped as she sprang to her feet and marched out of the room.

She should have known better, she’d never had any luck with men. She’d fled the flat and driven home. All weekend she’d struggled with the dilemma Ray had left her in. She knew she should report him to the hospital authorities, but would they believe her? Nobody likes a whistle-blower, and being associated with a drug user was going to reflect badly on her. Damn him; things were hard enough at work as it was. Not for the first time, she thought about quitting.

She used to love her job when she was at Queen Square. The work had been so fulfilling then, she’d felt she was making a real difference, caring for people like she’d always wanted. But, since her transfer, her patient contact had steadily diminished while the hours taken up by management duties escalated by the day. She wouldn’t mind so much if she felt she was achieving something, but the harsh reality was she wasn’t able to influence the quality of patient care anything like as much as she wished.

Pulling up in the staff car park at the back of the hospital, she walked towards the locker room; head down, deep in thought. Maybe she should volunteer for the Red Cross or something; go and work in Africa, or South America, anywhere she could feel useful.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a cheery, “Hello.” She looked up, “Oh, hi, Jenny, how are you this morning?”

“Bloody knackered to be honest; it’s been a long night, ruddy awful from the start.”

“Why’s that?”

“Well, the wannabe widow was in again for one thing.”

“Huh,” Susan grunted. She’d seen Carlton’s wife visiting before. The woman didn’t look particularly upset by her husband’s perilous condition. In truth, she looked like her lucky number had come up; she wouldn’t have to go through that messy divorce after all. Susan hoped the bitch was wrong. If she had anything to do with it, Ben Carlton was going to live.

She chatted to Jenny a while, then waved her goodbye and carried on towards the staff entrance. Her damn head was still thumping away. It seemed to be getting worse as she approached the building. She’d have to stop off at the pharmacy before she started her rounds.

Reaching the locker room, she remembered there was an alternative to resigning; a way she could have a real impact on how the department was run. For weeks, she’d been mulling over whether to apply for Deputy Head of Neurology. She was sure she could do a better job than the other likely candidates, but Ray had been doing his best to talk her out of it, said she’d only humiliate herself going up against more experienced applicants. Like him, of course, he meant. Last week, he’d finally persuaded her not to apply. But that was last week. Things had changed.

She looked into her locker and considered her choices. She made her decision and reached inside.


The pain was back. It was bad, though not as bad as before. It wasn’t all over this time, either; just down one arm.

The fog was back too. Quickly, he realised the fog was actually the smoke and dust from the artillery barrage. Why couldn’t he move though? He needed to move forward, march on for King and Country, march towards the enemy trenches through the mud and chaos.

He looked down. There was barbed wire wrapped around his arm. That was alright, he could soon untangle it. He’d get the sarge to safety then go on with his pals, marching towards the German lines. Marching to the victory that, this time, finally, must surely be theirs?

There were several thumps across his chest, like an unseen giant had punched him. He staggered backwards then slumped to the ground, still held in the grip of the barbed wire.

Everything began to fade away.


Susan swept through the hospital, her white coat flowing behind her like a cloak. Despite her persistent headache, she was in a good mood. She’d made up her mind; she was going to apply for Deputy Head. Sod it, they could tell her she didn’t have enough experience if they wanted; she was going for it. That’s what her father would have told her to do.

There was also another reason for her good spirits. A couple of weeks ago, it looked as if Ben Carlton might never come out of his coma, but the report she’d just seen showed what initially seemed like a random glitch had, in fact, been the beginning of a cycle made up of brief spikes of intense brain activity followed by long, dormant periods... long, but getting shorter, and, while she wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, it was definitely a positive sign.

She reached the I.T.U. and headed straight for Carlton, leaning over to examine the monitors around his bed. The readings confirmed what she had hoped: he was beginning to regain some degree of normal brain function. It was nothing short of a miracle. She smiled down at him, delighted with his progress, and felt the same strange sensation she always felt when he was close. It seemed to be getting stronger every time, but she still couldn’t grasp what it was: a sense of familiarity, or belonging, or even...

‘Susan!’ she chastised herself. It was just sympathy that was all. What’s more, it was totally unprofessional. Carlton was a patient, strictly off limits. And he was married; even if his wife was a total bitch. Double off limits!

She shrugged off her feelings and continued her examination. But later, as she walked back along the corridor, echoes of the sensation Carlton had evoked still lingered in her mind. Well, at least it had displaced that bloody headache.


The ferocious dark hordes were getting closer, the sustained volley fire no longer holding them back. Even the briefest pause to open a box of ammunition allowed dozens of native warriors to rush forward and threaten the line. The situation was getting critical. Basil wondered how much longer his company could hold their position.

A few yards to his left he saw a trooper hit in the chest by a flying spear. The man next to him fumbled and dropped the cartridge he’d been loading into his rifle. It was enough. Within seconds, the enemy reached the weak spot and began to pour through the gap. The line was breached.

Basil knew he must stem the ebony tide or the whole battalion would be under threat. It seemed unthinkable: these spear-wielding savages were poised to score a victory over the British Army. If the Zulus won here at Isandlwana, what next: the Natal Colony; the Cape itself?

He couldn’t let that happen, he had to stop them. Quickly, he selected a few men from one of the stronger sections and ordered them to form around him. Leading his small force, he rushed at the infiltrators. He could see the intense, courageous expressions on the warriors’ faces. Many were young, but he could see no fear in his adversaries. Fleetingly, and grudgingly, he had to admit a certain admiration for them. He wondered if England’s children would defend her from a foreign invader with such ferocity.

The opposing groups came together and he had no time to think of anything but fighting for his life. The battle raged around him, some of his men fell, but his little unit seemed to be gaining the upper hand. He began to think he may have successfully repelled this fiercest of foes. Then he felt an assegai thrust into his gut.

He collapsed, gasping for breath, and lay spread-eagled in the dust. Staring up at the clear, blue, South African sky, a dreadful sadness stole over him. Not for himself and this sudden, violent death; he was a professional soldier, he had enough experience of the vagaries of war to know his number was simply up. ‘Just bad luck, old chap,’ he would have laughed if he’d had the strength.

No, his sadness was for the one he loved. Lying here, dying, he knew his love was real, no matter how indecent, immoral, or outrageously shocking, it might be considered. Here, at the point of death, he could see love was more important than society’s judgement. The tragedy was he’d never be able to tell the person he loved how he felt; his realisation of the true nature of his feelings had come too late.

A tear fell from his eye as, with his last breath, he whispered, “Sebastian.”