I told myself that I would never re use anything I had already written, but what happens when nothing you come up with is as good as the thing that already exists? I do really want to approach the story with a fresh mind, but, what I most of all want to do is follow my intuition, and my intuition is telling me that the text that already exist is the better version. I hope I’m not masking Intuition with Laziness… This is chapter 2 and part of chapter 3, unedited: You can keep track of my progress HERE.
The last day came and he stood at the entrance, uniform and all, with bag and gun on his back. His parents stared sadly at him, yet smiling. They mustered everything they had to keep a straight face, he knew. Their hugs lasted long, as if they didn’t want to let go, his mother wouldn’t let go but was forced to as his father prodded her loose. They waved goodbye and he felt their gaze on his back as he disappeared down the hill. The neighbourhood overlooked the docks, not the same docks he would be shipped from, but a smaller one he remembered often visiting as a child. His father would always take him there, chat and buy the latest catch. He would run off and play with the sailors kids who had to work with their fathers but found break whenever His father visited. They liked him for that and sometimes he wondered if that was all they liked him for. They were different than him, he knew already at that age, talking in a different manner than him. He tried to emulate them, be more like them because they seemed so free and fearless. If he emulated them, perhaps he would be fearless too? Banks shook his head, knowing he was already insecure at that age, but it would change now, he promised. There were no other soldiers were waiting for the bus that would take him down the coast, about 50 miles. Most had already been shipped off, nobody from here was going where he was, wherever it is. He had strange glances at him as he waited, trying to look the part of a soldier. A few kids gawked at his gun and he considered showing it to them, but despite the fact that it would be improper and that their parents would surely disapprove, he didn’t want children to idolise weapons. He held it on his back because he had to. It was not loaded, of course, they weren’t allowed to carry ammunition and it was the way he liked it.
The buss came and he placed himself at the front, like he used to. He enjoyed watching the scenery as they drove and perhaps chat with the driver, if he was up for it. This one wasn’t and he kept quiet, letting the bumping and the swaying lull him into an imaginary world in his mind. He almost fell asleep, but the driver pushed the breaks hard as he almost ran over somebody on the road and jerked him to his senses. The driver yelled at the pedestrian and the pedestrian scurried like a frightened rabbit, raising his fist once he was out of harms way. Banks chuckled, even the war could not change day to day life here, it seemed, and he was glad for it. A couple of minutes later he got off. It was a busy port with a lot of people bustling. Large ships lay docked, as well as smaller fishing boats. Crates of different kinds were rushed and stacked, hauled onto the deck of the massive ships. He was taken in by all the activity and had a hard time finding where he was supposed to go. He followed the shore line and scanned the ships until he saw green amongst the blue and white dressed sailors. Banks could see from a distance that it was a scruffy man with a large beard, but he wore the uniform along with the officers cap. He held a piece of paper and was peering as if looking for somebody. As Banks approached, he noticed him. Banks felt his gaze draw him in and he hurried towards him. “Name,” the scruffy officer said.
“It’s Banks, Fair Banks, sir.”
The officer scanned the paper and ticket off his name. “You’re late,” he said and gestured to go onboard.
“Sorry, sir,” Banks said and hurried up the ramp. The ramp swayed at his weight and he was glad to stand on deck. A sailor reached out and took his bag and left the gun on his shoulder. He would have to carry it still. As he found his bearings, he looked around. There were many on deck, leaning against the railing or the wall, or whatever the side of the boat was called, everything had different names in boat lingo… Somewhere in groups, others were alone in their own thoughts, gazing, or snoozing. Banks corrected the gun strap over his shoulder and walked awkwardly around. He wondered if there was anyone else from his regiment that had taken on the same mission? As he walked along the length of the boat, finding nobody, he ended up at the front. He stood and watched the sea as the boat cast away. The weather was clear and the ocean calm. It would be a short, pleasant trip and he smiled, taking it as a good sign for the mission to come. As he stood and watched, in a distant mind, somebody stood beside him. He didn’t notice him at first and he almost jumped in surprise as he noticed. The man beside him looked young and stern, frowning and squinting his eyes, as if he tried to emulate a weathered sailor that had too many bad memories to ever smile. Banks turned his gaze away, finding the silence awkward. “Fine weather we are having,” he said.
“Is it?” The man said and looked to the clouds. “I suppose it is…”
The talk didn’t break the awkwardness and Banks backed away. There sure were some strange people onboard, he thought and wandered aimlessly until he decided to check what was inside. There was a door and a small hallway that lead to a room where a bunch of people had gathered. Unlike above, voices were booming and Banks considered going back out when he heard his voice being called. “Banks! Banks! Over here.”
Banks looked around the dim room and saw somebody waving. After a few steps he noticed who it was and a smile crept on to his lips. “Hjalmar…”
“Banks! You son of a gun, should’ve known you’d take the opportunity come come here too!”
Banks blushed, knowing full well what he meant. It hadn’t crossed him that other people had joined for the same reasons he was. They all seemed so confident and brooding that he was sure they were battle hardened already. Not here to avoid actual fighting. Hjalmar noticed him blushing and he smacked his back. “Oh, don’t be coy,” he said. “It is no secret.”
Banks was about to protest, why, he didn’t know. Perhaps he wanted to tell himself that he was going to do important work regardless, but before he could, Hjalmar was already introducing him to some of his friends. Well, friends might be a strong word because Hjalmar had already just met them, but that’s the thing with Hjalmar, he could make friends instantly and with everyone. Banks could not recall any time he’d seen Hjalmar alone. The closest had been during physical training, when they were jogging and Banks was slacking behind, Hjalmar would join him in his tempo, a tempo he could easily match, Banks suspected, yet he kept his pace and they talked, well, Hjalmar was talking and Banks was gasping. Either way, even if it was because he valued his friendship or because he wanted a reason to slack himself, Banks sured valued his company and he was glad that he had joined as well.
Hjalmar introduced him to some names he had already forgotten. Except one, which was James. He was a bleary eyed man who was as quiet as he was, but he didn’t ooze insecurity, rather, he was quiet because he wanted to, not because he wasn’t brave enough to do so. “I’m Banks,” he said, offering his hand.
James took it politely. “So I’ve heard.”
Banks blushed again, knowing it was redundant to say but he wasn’t used to this and kept quiet. Hjalmar smiled and said. “Don’t be so awkward, we are all friends here. Have you seen anyone else from the regiment?” he asked.
Banks shook his head. “I’ve been up and down the length of the boat but have seen nobody.”
Hjalmar shrugged. “I’m not surprised. They were a zealous bunch, weren’t they?”
Banks remembered. Even those that had been rather weak, at least physically, became well drilled soldiers, for some reason he hadn’t been able… He was not suited for war, was he? “Still, why shouldn’t they be here, it’s an important mission, isn’t it? I’m sure not anyone is chosen.”
They looked at Banks as he was stupid and Banks stammered to explain himself. “I — I mean, surely, the interview wasn’t for nothing… And —.”
“You know full well why we are here,” James said.
Banks was taken aback by the force in his voice, so different from the expression he presented. “You are a coward, like myself, or anyone else onboard. Don’t try to act as if you are in any different,” he said almost with a growl.
Banks was at loss of words.
Hjalmar put his arm around him.”It’s true; a voluntary mission to a cozy little island far from the battlefield. They pick only the most useless people for those.”
Banks started to flush, he had been found out.
Hjalmar punched him in the arm. “Don’t be ashamed, you are amongst friends here, watch,” he said and grabbed somebody who was passing by. “What’s your name, friend?”
His eyes darted between the three of them. “Harry, Harry Gallon.”
“Greetings, Harry! This is Banks and James. Do you maybe know where we are heading?”
Hjalmar had released him. “T— to an island?”
Hjalmar laughed. “Yes, that’s the extent we all know, isn’t it, but which one?”
“I saw on a map that there are hundreds off the coast, it’s impossible to know,” Banks said.
Hjalmar smiled creepily. “Well, I happened to talk to one of the sailors and though he didn’t say where we are going, he mentioned that one of the islands was haunted!” He said and waved his hands as if to imitate a ghost. “Ooooo.”
Banks and started laughing and Harry chuckled uncertainty.
“Shut up, Hjalmar,” James said.
“Oh, looks like somebody is afraid of ghosts!”
They laughed and more people started to gather around them, talking lively about where they come from and which regimen they served under. Banks was content to stand on the sidelines and watch as Hjalmar worked his magic. Even if he was a coward he was among friends, as Hjalmar had said. But in his mind, he couldn’t shake the feeling that there must be another purpose than to keep them out of the war. Where they really that useless as they suggested?
Banks was leaning against the railing, alone, when a mist started to form. It began slowly, like thin flakes of clouds that had somehow ended up on the surface, but soon they collected into a greater milky mist that made anything that was further than a couple a metres seem like a blur. People around him started talking, nervously and Banks soon found himself alone with spectres that dashed here and there. He ran into Harry, who he had had a brief conversation with and though they didn’t know each other very well, they were happy to see each other. Even Banks who was used to being alone didn’t like to be left in such a mist. Soon, more and more people gathered on deck and as the commotion heightened. The sailors noticed the commotion and through the speakers, the captain reassured them that the mist meant that they were soon near the island, whatever that meant. People became calmer and Banks, Harry, and a couple of others who had joined their group, ended up at the front of the boat to be the first to discover the island. Others seemed to have had the same idea as there were a couple gathered already. Hjalmar was one of them. He smiled as they approached. “Never seen anything like it,” he said.
Banks murmured hoarsely in agreement, as if his voice decided to hide inside of him.
“How could anyone navigate in such a mist?” Harry said.
“They align themselves before they enter the mist. They know where it is, generally, and then they just plow through it, straight ahead.”
Banks gawked at him. “You knew about this?”
Hjalmar smile broadened. “The sailor told me.”
Banks shook his head. Hjalmar ever the persuasive. It was almost frightening to think how easy he could get what he wanted and wondered if even he had been manipulated at one point. Banks could think of several…
“How much do you bet this is why the base is on this island?” A stranger in the group said.
“They couldn’t ask for a better cover,” another agreed.
It made sense when they said it. But Banks couldn’t help but feel at unease. The weather had been so nice before. He shivered at the thought of having to be living in such a thick mist all day long. Among the group, Banks noticed the stern looking man he met a few hours earlier, looking just as stern, or even more so, as he narrowed his eyes and stared intently ahead. Suddenly, his gaze softened and he spun around and disappeared in the mist. Banks looked quizzically at him when a cry made him turn back to the front of the ship. The mist was clearing and and the island revealed itself. There was some structures ahead that looked like a harbour. Banks was relieved that the island itself was mist free and only seemed to collect out on the coast. But he soon got disheartened again as they approach the harbour. The buildings were half crumbled and the ones that stood had holes on the roof and the windows were shattered. Hjalmar laughed. “Told you the place was haunted,” he said and left to get ready for landing.
© Christopher Stamfors