Authors: Stan Mason
Tags: #Mystery, #intrigue, #surprise, #shock, #secrecy, #deceit, #destruction
Published in 2015 by Andrews UK Limited
The right of Stan Mason to be identified as author of this book has been asserted in accordance with section 77 and 78 of the Copyrights Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Copyright Â© 2015 Stan Mason
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior written consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published, and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
The characters and situations in this book are entirely imaginary and bear no relation to any real person or actual happening.
As the darkness fell, my tired eyes followed the white lines in the centre of the road with pain searing through my head. I could easily have drifted off into never-never land and crashed the vehicle anywhere along the highway for I was morbidly weary of driving ready to welcome the warmth and pleasantness of a deep sleep. It had become extremely dark that evening through the preponderance of heavy rain clouds. Indeed, my driving was seriously affected by the steady stream of rain which torrented down continually battering the windscreen of the car for the last hour.
It had been my intention to head directly north to the village where my sister lived However, by the time I started to approach that area in the north I was almost exhausted with fatigue. It had been a long journey lasting over eight hours and, to my misfortune, I had misjudged the issue on two counts. Firstly, I failed to assess correctly the length of time it would take me to get to my destination. I believed it would take far less but what was I to know? Secondly, as a result of my arrival in Britain only two days earlier, I forgot all about the light which faded at five-thirty in the early evening. Subsequently, before I had the chance of finishing the journey in the light, the odds were well and truly stacked against me To make it worse, despite the plethora of signposts signifying the names of villages, towns and cities I had passed on the way, I soon realised that I was totally lost. Some time had passed since I left the motorway and I had followed the signs along many smaller roads only to end up at the start of a very wide sandy lane which led to a village bearing the unwelcoming shingle proclaiming “Keppelberg”. I stopped the car and removed a torch from the glove compartment and studied the map to find out my location. I was a few miles north of Newcastle. However, although the map was highly detailed, there was no reference to a village by the name of Keppelberg.
I started the car again and drove up the sandy lane until reaching a proper road following it until coming to the main street of the village. To my surprise there was a multitude of shops, around fifty of them in all, located on each side of the road. I pulled over to a large area which I believed to be a car park and stopped to rest. Although it was fairly early in the evening, the village was in total darkness. There were no street lights shining from lamp-posts, nor was there any illumination from the shop windows. It was then that the clouds began to drift and the moon shone through to offer some respite but it was still far too dark for me to start looking for a hotel. Ultimately, I leaned back in the front of the car and lay there as comfortably as I could resting my weary pate on the headrest. It had been a tortuous day with regard to the immense amount of traffic on the roads and I was extremely tired. Yet despite my fatigue and a strong desire to go to sleep, I could not find a way into the arms of Morpheus. The pundits say that one's life flashes in front of their eyes the moment before they die. Well, in my case, I lay back as comfortably as I could in the car reflecting the past which ran through my mind as though I was watching a film in the cinema.
I had spent the last six years in the army, being demobilised only two days earlier. When my sister Mary, who lived in Bishopstown, learned of my release, she telephoned to invite me to her house to celebrate the event. More importantly, she hadn't seen my for at least six years and desperately wanted to hug her little brother. Although the family lived in Cornwall, she had met a Yorkshireman who had been left a house in the Will of his late aunt. He had gone to Cornwall on holiday and they had met on the beach at Falmouth. It was love at first sight and it wasn't long before they were married and he whisked her away to his new home in the north. It was a long distance from Cornwall and, as I had joined the army signing on for six years, there was little contact between us during that period. I had been attached to the 4
Fusiliers Regiment in Plymouth which ultimately was sent to keep the peace in Iraq.
I had been posted on the outskirts of Basra for a period exceeding two years. The situation in and around the city had been extremely volatile with most of the Arabs hating the British. There were numerous terrorists in abeyance rumoured to have been sent by the Syrian authorities, while land mines had been buried absolutely everywhere. Insurrectionists hid around every corner and religious sects of the Islam religion, such as the Sunnis and the Shi-ites, who disliked each other intensely, had to be kept apart. It was a time-bomb waiting to explode in everyone's face and British soldiers had to bear the brunt of it. As it happened, I was awarded a medal for saving the lives of four soldiers who would have been killed by a land mine but for my intervention. A British armoured vehicle struck a land mine at the side of the road. The explosion was of such force that it turned the vehicle on to its side. There were five soldiers aboard... the first one being killed instantly. The others lay within the vehicle, badly stunned or unconscious. I was walking about ten yards away when it happened and I threw myself into action, starting to pull the injured away to safety in a ditch. I was unaware at the time that I was under a rain of fire from terrorists shooting at me from the near distance. I managed to pull all four soldiers to safety having been hit by six bullets in the back. Fortunately, I was wearing a back-pack which contained my tin plate, mug and cutlery. When I examined them later, there were five badly dented bullets in the plate and one in the tin mug. They had not only saved my life but that of four soldiers. To my mind, I considered that I was only doing my duty... helping to save the lives of my colleague. As far as I was concerned, the award granted was way over the top. They kept calling me a hero but I didn't feel like one. Fame was not on my agenda... nor did I feel that there was any future for me if I stayed in the army, especially as the unit would have had to return to Basra at a later date to monitor and separate the Arabs in their own country. I was determined not to be a target again or another victim. So I resigned at the end of my six-year contract with the Ministry of Defence to end up in civvy street. Consequently, I was now a noncommissioned civilian with no prospects or employment in sight.
Sleep was extremely difficult to come by in the cramped position in the front of the car and morning seemed to take its time in arriving. However the hours eventually passed and the early light broke through the darkness so that everything in the village became much clearer. When I opened my eyes, I found myself parked in the main shopping area opposite a large board which boasted. âKeppleberg... population 1100'. With nothing else to do while I was waking, I sat thinking about the numbers analysing the situation concisely. Fifty shops for such a small population seemed to be far too many especially as they did not stock or sell electronic equipment. If there were only eleven hundred people in the village, it meant that each shop catered for twenty-two people. That didn't sound right. Surely some of them would have gone out of business through lack of trade!
Some very old bicycles were being ridden into the area and people began to mill about. I climbed out of the car to approach a woman passing by holding the hand of a young boy.
âExcuse me,' I asked politely. âCan you tell me the way to Bishopstown? I seem to have got lost.'
She stared at me bleakly and pulled the child away as though I was going to snatch him from her.
âI've no idea!' she snapped rudely, causing me to be surprised at her totally negative attitude.
I then saw a young man who had just arrived on his bicycle to ask the same question. He stared at me blankly for a few moments before giving me the same answer. I was starting to become angry.
âWhere's the police station?' I demanded, determined to find the way to my sister's house.
He shrugged his shoulders aimlessly as if unwilling to tell me anything that might help me.
âDown the road,' he muttered almost under his breath. âDon't worry. The police will find you!'
I wondered what he meant by that comment and made my way back to the car to study the road atlas once again. There had to be some mention of Keppleberg on the map somewhere. I turned to the appendix which held the names of all the villages, town and cities at the back without success and then turned my attention to the grids on the map searching carefully but I could not find it. Jus as I felt like throwing it out of the window, there was a knock on the side-window. The man from whom I had asked the way was perfectly correct... the police had found me!
âMay I ask what you're doing in this village?' Asked the constable bluntly. I was surprised to note that his uniform was one long discarded by the police force.
âI'm lost,' I told him before thinking about his opening question. âIs there any reason I shouldn't be here?'
He smiled at me amiably although I could see by his eyes that he found the comment less than amusing. âWhere are you headed for, sir?' he went on politely.
âI'm looking for Bishopstown,' I responded hopeful that he could provide the answer for which I was searching. âI got lost in the dark and ended up here.'
The policeman nodded before moving slightly back from the car and pulling himself up to his full height. âI've never heard of the place you mention,' he continued flatly. âI suggest you go back the way you came and seek advice from someone in the next town.'
âNo one here seems to know anything,' I complained bitterly, taking out my frustration on the man.
âThat's because we're very singular, sir,' he retorted sharply. âWe're a small village that likes to keep itself to itself.'
âWhat puzzles me is that all these shops caters for just over a thousand people,' I advanced audaciously. âIt seems a lot of them for such a small community.'
âThe people in this village like to be served well,' stated the policeman curtly. âNow, sir, if you'd like to get on your way, there are other people who wish to use this area.'
I looked around to see a dozen bicycles parked on one side of an area almost the size of a football field which made his comment completely irrelevant. I was about to continue questioning him, although his unfriendly attitude caused me to become highly suspicious, but I quickly realised it would be pointless. He seemed very eager to get rid of me... far too eager! It was a free country... why should he be so insistent that I leave? I had the feeling that this was no ordinary village. There was something about it although I could not put my finger on it. In addition, I was most surprised that no one could tell me the direction of Bishopstown and although it could hardly be any distance away no one seemed to have heard of it.
I started the engine, noticing the expression of relief on the policeman's face, and drove slowly out of the village, staring a the row of shops as I left. There was something very strange about the place as well as the attitude of the people. Perhaps the villagers were over-cautious about strangers as they lived in relative isolation from the rest of the world. It aroused my curiosity although it was really none of my concern. It was also none of my business as I had other fish to fry. I had come to the north on a mission and that's what I intended to accomplish. Without delay, I drove to the next village where the postmaster told me the exact road to take to Bishopstown.
When I arrived there, my sister, welcomed me with open arms. To her I was a hero, having been awarded a distinguished medal by saving the live of four soldiers. I tried hard to play down the incident but she was so proud of me she wouldn't listen. I parked my suitcase in the guest room and chatted with her in the lounge, both of us rendering stories of what had happened to us during the past six years. In the evening, there was a party to which she had invited over twenty people, mainly to show me off, and I became nominated as the war veteran from Basra. Tim, her husband, had been charged with preparing a feast fit for a king. Consequently, the food was plentiful, the wine ran freely, while the other guests appeared to be very amiable. However my mind drifted to the events of the day and it beleaguered me. Later that evening, I took my brother-in-law to one side with a problem that was beginning to obsess me.
âTim,' I began seriously, âwhat do you know about a village called Keppelberg!'
âKeppelberg,' he repeated, as though trying to recall the name from the archives of his mind. Then he shook his head slowly. âNo... never heard of it.'
âBut it's only about twenty miles from here,' I bleated in despair. âYou must know of it.'
âI'm sorry,' he returned. âCan't help you. Never heard of it.'
I was seriously concerned at his response. The village was barely twenty miles away yet he claimed never to have heard of it. That was incredible to say the least! I proceeded to ask the same question of my sister only to receive a similar reply. The village didn't seem to exist yet I had found it on my way to my sister's house... a village with eleven hundred people and over fifty shops. How did they get any of their supplies delivered there if it didn't exist? It wasn't on the road map nor had anyone ever heard of it! It caused me to become far more curious. I had come across it in the darkness of the night and I was the only one to know of its location. Could it be another Brigadoon that only surfaced for one day in every hundred years? That was a fairy tale. It was not only improbable but impossible. It was incredible to conceive such a thing in this day and age. Then I thought about the population count of eleven hundred people... not one thousand-one hundred and-eighty-four or eleven hundred-and-twenty-eight but exactly eleven hundred people. How strange was that? I found it difficult to remain impartial when dwelling on the facts. There was a lot more to learn about the people of Keppleberg... of that much I was certain.
The following day I purchased a satellite navigation system which I locked on to the windscreen of my car. Now, at last, I could identify the names and directions of all the towns and villages in the region. I would be able to plot exactly where I was going. It was my main intention to return to Keppleberg. The device actually recorded its name so, after saying farewell to my sister and her husband, who were clearly dismayed at my sudden swift departure, I climbed into my car and drove back the way I had come. It took me well over half-an-hour to find the village again. Not surprisingly, the satellite navigation system failed to record the name of the place or the road leading up to it. Keppelberg was a closely guarded secret The term âcuriosity killed the cat' came to mind but I was determined to investigate to satisfy that curiosity and to find out why it had exactly eleven hundred inhabitants.