Halifax Explosion

Here is the last sample chapter I will be posting from my novel REDEEMED FROM THE ASHES.

Chapter 3

After conducting a thorough search of the house, Carl and Evelyn stumbled into their bed and fell into a deep slumber. They had examined every room, even the tiny attic that could be accessed through the ceiling of their master bedroom. And surely just as Evelyn had recounted, the wine had been touched, having been discarded on its side and a small amount of wine left to dribble on the crude kitchen worktable. The whole bottle was empty. Carl had scrutinized every corner of Casby’s spacious bedroom, situated on the second floor above Carl’s study. No vestige of his previous presence was left.

Carl and Evelyn arose at nine o’ clock the next morning, much later than their usual time. Carl managed to scoot himself to the edge of the bed to put on his Sunday trousers. “I am so glad I do not have to work today. I do not think I would be able to function properly having had hardly any sleep. I was thinking, perhaps I should check the whole house again. Maybe I missed something; it was very late.”

“True. Shall we look again?”

“Yes.”

Even after the second search, they saw nothing with their fresh eyes. When they entered the dining room, they became cognizant of the fact they had no butler and therefore no prepared food.

“Do not fear. Your stomach shall be satisfied,” Evelyn announced.

Carl cocked his head to the side displaying a rather facetious-looking face of surprise.

“I don’t think I’ve told you this before, but when I was a young girl, my mother forbade me from approaching the kitchen. She would continually below in my ear, ‘The kitchen is the servants’ quarters. You are not to associate with them in this way. Do I make myself clear?’ But I adored food.”

“That is no surprise.”

“Ssshh. As I was saying, I was curious as to how they made such delectable meals. So I disobeyed her. Eliza, the cook, taught me the art of cooking when I was able to steal away from my mother’s company at certain outings. I was very clever at hiding my secret. She never knew nor was suspicious of my… illegal activities.”

“My dear, I didn’t think of you as a rebellious child!”

“You did not know what kind of trap you fell into by marrying me.”

“I must conjecture you are perfectly right.”

“So now that you know my terrible secret, I will prepare some lunch for us.”

On that note, she spun on her heel and sauntered into the kitchen. After forty-five minutes, she returned with two bowls of potato soup, two slices of bread and butter, and two glasses of water on a tray. She placed the food in front of him.

“Thank you, my dear.”

“You’re welcome.”

He tentatively took his first sip all the while gauging her reaction to his false performance of hesitancy.

“Well?”

“I must say… it may need a bit of salt.”

“Wipe away that Mephistophelian grin!”

“Ah, Faust. I do not know what you are talking about.”

“That book has been sitting on its shelf for far too long. You never finished it.”

“Thank you for reminding me.”

They resumed their meal, both exhibiting pleasing expressions of delight.

“Carl?”

“Yes?”

“What will we do now? I mean, we have no butler. Should we advertise for another?”

“I think not. We could save quite a bit of money if you were the one who prepared all our meals from now on.”

“But I’m sure mother would not mind hiring another one for us.”

“Evelyn, do you not remember what I said concerning the matter? I believe it is best if we not be living off of your mother’s money anymore. Because she helps supports us, she has great influence over the important choices we make; and she believes she has the right to force her ideas down our throats. Do you not remember what problems we had in purchasing our own house with your mother breathing down our necks? There was that lovely cottage you wanted on… oh, I cannot remember which street it was on. I believe it was on the other side of town.  But no! She insisted upon this one. And we accepted it because, well, it was generous of her. The thing is is that we are our own family; she has no right to dictate what we do with our lives. I cannot accept anymore money from her. I appreciate the fact that when I was off to war, your mother gave much for you to live on. But I have returned and am able to support you myself without her monthly financial donations.”  The tension in his face slowly drained.

“I am so sorry. I did not mean to… make you frustrated.” She tenderly placed her right hand upon his outstretched forearm which had been moving around quite vigorously during his previous overwrought speech.

“I do know what you mean. Sometimes her overbearing presence is overwhelming. Do you really think if we cut off from her financially she will be less inclined to put her nose where it doesn’t belong?”

“I don’t know. But it’s worth a try. And look, are you not grateful you learned to cook and clean behind your mother’s back?”

“Yes, quite. Anyways… oh, last night was quite the adventure. Actually, I remember something else… from last night.”

“What?”

“Casby said, ‘Our country is counting on you. I am counting on you.’ What does ‘our country’ have to do with what they were doing?”

“You are sure that that is what was said.”

“Yes, I am sure.”

“Perhaps he was talking about national espionage for… the Allied Nations?”

“Then why all the secrecy?”

“These men are bound to secrecy. I’m sure there is a very good reason why he left without telling us.”

#

Evelyn was not reassured by her husband’s words. The nightmares that continued to haunt her while she slept made it impossible for her to dispel the distrust she had for Casby. When she closed her eyes that night to succumb to the sweet kiss of sleep, a poison instead penetrated her realm of dreams. Fire engulfed her, snow froze her, a horrendous noise shook her, smoke choked her, and darkness attacked her. Her husband suddenly disappeared in a wisp of cloud, and she was all alone in her torture.

“Carl!” She lunged upright in her bed.

He stirred softly.

Realizing it had just been a dream, her rapid breathing started to slow. She lay back down, thankful her husband was still there, right beside her. Exhausted, she closed her eyes and surrendered once more.

Soft lips pressed upon her, a hand cupping her cheek. Her eyelids groggily opened. An angel of light was bending over her. The planes of his face touched and moulded against hers, reflecting the sun’s dancing rays. Slowly, he pulled away from her, letting his sweet kiss linger in the space between them.

“Good morning, my love.”

“Good morning.” What an awakening this was. This touch of romance had been gone for many years. And now that the spark had been ignited, she wanted more.

“Shall we get an early start?”

She nodded, unable to utter a single word; for his advances had stolen away her ability to breathe unlike the first time when they had caused her to blench. After getting dressed, Evelyn prepared a simple breakfast of oatmeal. Although not many words were spoken, the newborn lovers passed the fondest looks between each other.

“You are different today, Carl.”

“Yes, I am.”

He seemed to be in the best of spirits. And the way he had kissed her. She could only think of that kiss.

“Carl, that kiss… what made you think I was ready?”

“I’ve been observing you the past few days.”

“Oh.” Now is a good time. “I want to say I am truly sorry for the way I reacted the first time. My apology is long overdue. You were in need of physicality and…”

“Please, don’t say anymore, Evelyn. I realize I gave you no warning. It had been a long time since… the last time. I should not have expected… I also want to ask for forgiveness for holding it against you for too long.”

“I know that you and I in our stubbornness could bicker back and forth over how the blame should be upon ourselves and not the other for the next hour. So let us each forgive one another for the offenses we have laid out. Truce?”

“Truce.” He downed the last drop of his coffee. “Well, I am off.”

“Already?”

“Yes, already.”

“Hmm, all right. I’ll be waiting for you when you come back.”

“Good. And tonight… I have something special planned for you.” At that moment, Carl leaned out of his chair and planted a passionate kiss upon her lips, locking her in his embrace. The table and arms of the chairs could not stand in the way of his hands caressing the frame of her body.

She could only melt at her husband’s attentions. It was as if they were falling in love all over again. As she pulled back slightly to catch her breath, their heads knocked together.

“Ow!”

Evelyn touched her lip and winced while Carl rubbed his nose. Suddenly they burst out laughing.

“I’m sorry, Evelyn.”

Another kiss took place, one that glided through their lips as silk over skin.

“There now perhaps that shall take away the pain.” He rubbed his smooth thumb over her bottom lip.

“It already has.”

“All right, then. Goodbye, my love.”

“Wait! I will see you out the door.”

She followed him out, chuckling. The air was crisp, and the clouds did not hinder the sun from making an adequate appearance.

Carl craned his neck toward the harbor. “What are they doing?”

“Whom are you talking about?”

“Those two ships there.” He pointed his finger at a point in the Narrows where two ships were about to pass each other.

“What’s wrong?”

“They are both on the wrong side of the channel.”

“Oh.”

“There are regulations in place for a reason. A collision can occur if the regulations are not met. And it could result badly if a munitions ship is involved. Now that one isn’t but… There are many of those that come through here now because of the war.”

“Do you think any parties will suffer damage?”

“Well, if these two ships do run each other astern, I think they will only suffer minor damages that can be repaired.”

“I never knew they had such regulations.”

“Yes… I really must go. I shall return.”

Carl invaded her thoughts continuously throughout the next forty-five minutes. Memories of their past secret meetings in her childhood garden while her mother was out visiting, of the inconspicuous loving looks they had cast each other’s ways at public dinner tables, and of the day they had been united in matrimony rushed forth from their prison cell. She was skipping across the wooden floors and singing, not caring who might hear her through the slightly open living room window. She took a respite from her housework to drink a glass of water. As she sipped her water, she moved toward the dining room to look out the sash window overlooking the harbor. A few buildings blocked parts of her view, but she could mostly see what was happening in the harbor below. Instead of beholding a clear blue sky, she gazed upon a gigantic mushroom cloud of smoke coming from a point in the Narrows.

“Oh, goodness!”

She backed up into a chair, turned it around, and slowly sat upon it. From what she could tell, two of the ships had collided. One of the ships sported a large gash at the fore-hold of the ship. Many people including children had started to gather in the streets and near the docks to watch the spectacle. Flames burst from the ship’s hold and licked the sides of steel. All she could do was stare at the roiling smoke. She had seen smoke like this… her dream. Her nerves began to tingle; her fingertips shook. She swallowed her growing terror, rose from her chair, and stared into the middle of the swirling pillar of smoke. The smoke, furling in continuous circles, hypnotized her. She could not see the cause of this strange beauty manifesting its fearsome strength. Was it a munitions ship? Carl had said that something like this might happen. Suddenly the smoke vanished, and a brighter light than the sun flooded her entire vision. Awestruck, Evelyn covered her squinting eyes with her hands and could not breathe.  

Oh, dear God, what is this?

She knew not what to think. As quickly as she could, she crawled underneath the oak table. She was hidden on all sides by the draping tablecloth. She hugged her knees to her chest. Soon the ground began to shake beneath her. Would the earth swallow her deep into its pit? And Carl. She hoped he would be all right. An ear-shuddering strum grew louder and louder until…

She squeezed her eyes closed; Death was near.

#

Dark grey light, spattered with black spots, pervaded her sight. Different sounds meshed into one jumbled flow. She licked her lips to taste a bitter metal substance. She wanted to spit it out immediately, but she failed in doing so. Suddenly, she felt a soothing touch sweep over her brow. She heard a sweet low voice speaking to her. Evelyn brought her hand up to see what was covering her mouth. “Ah!” She felt an excruciating pain shoot into her right arm.

“Sh! Sh! It’s all right, dear. Everything will be okay.”

The bright light Evelyn had seen was gone. The world was now black with death. The sun had been defeated. Everywhere ash rained down from heaven upon ruins and rubble. Her house including others had either warped, broken in pieces, or fallen to the ground. Trees and telegraph posts had snapped in two.

“Where am I? What happened? Where–– where is my husband?”

“Here let me tend to your arm.”

“Who are you?”

“I am Nurse…”

“Nurse Randall. Come here immediately. I need your help,” a man’s voice called from within the bleak wilderness.

“I’m coming, doctor.” The nurse turned to Evelyn and said, “I will be right back, dear. Stay here. Do not move around and keep this blanket on your arm.” Then she left, as a ghost slips through the shadows.

What had happened? Had the Germans attacked?

I need answers. I need to find Carl.

She tried to summon her strength. Trying to rise, she fell to the ground on her back. Again she tried and then succeeded. Slowly she removed the blanket on her arm to see the damage. Her arm was burnt close to the bone, charred and white in some areas. The edges of her burn were welting her tender flesh. She covered her arm with the blanket again because of the extreme pain that seared her. Her head twisted from left to right. As far as her eye could see, houses had turned into ash-covered ruins, people were dead, people cried in pain, fire licked its victims. Her dreams, her reveries were manifesting themselves. What on earth had happened? Carl. He was supposed to be at work. But the whole of Halifax had not escaped the wrath of Fate. Had he survived? Had he…? There was only one thing to do. She would find him, no matter what the cost.

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