tagSci-Fi & FantasyJessamy Beech Ch. 02: Oban

Jessamy Beech Ch. 02: Oban

byClynelish1©

'GRANTOWN ON SPEY - 4' announced the faded road sign. Jessamy Beech huffed, exasperated, and peered back down the road. Hamnavoe was making hard work of the fresh snow that had fallen overnight, hobbling along on his makeshift crutch. Her bullet had only grazed him so she didn't know why he was making such a fuss. Bloody wimp.

She shifted the weight of her old Osprey rucksack, trying to balance it with the weight of the SA80 on her other shoulder, "Get a move on," she called, "I want to be in Nairn by tomorrow."

Hamnavoe scowled at her, the lewd banter from the previous evening forgotten, "Ye shouldn't have fuckin' shot me then should ye?"

Jessamy sighed. If they could only find a vehicle, they might even be able to make Nairn by nightfall. These back roads were littered with the rusting, burnt out wrecks of cars that must have been caught in the blastwave when Inverness was wiped out by a direct hit. But the chances of finding anything still running and roadworthy thirty years after the strikes was practically zero. They'd have better luck finding horses, now virtually extinct after most were slaughtered for food.

The traffic that had streamed out of the cities as news of Russia's devastating new weapon emerged, now lay in slowly disintegrating heaps, creating an impassable barrier in places that required lengthy detours to negotiate.

Jessamy leaned against the wheel of a jack-knifed lorry and pushed her snow goggles up onto her forehead, "We'll rest here for an hour. I'll take a look at your leg."

"So you can get me to Kirkwall in time for my trial, is that it?" Hamnavoe growled.

Jessamy didn't answer. This wasn't the life she would've chosen for herself but it was certainly better than slaving away on the crofts scattered around the Isle of Mull, where she'd spent ten years of her life. But then she'd managed to escape and had achieved extraordinary things, met extraordinary people. A hundred years from now folk would probably still remember her name and wonder what had forged Jessamy Beech into a legend ...

CHAPTER TWO: OBAN

Twenty years earlier.

Despite the bone biting cold and her hunger, Jessamy Beech slept for the entire crossing. From Craignure, the ferry Loch Striven crossed the debris littered Firth of Lorn, past the charred stump of the old lighthouse at the southern tip of Lismore and on into Oban harbour, sheltered from the brunt of the Atlantic storms behind the now uninhabited island of Kerrera.

It was fully dark by the time the ferry docked and Jessamy was jolted awake by the sound of the enormous bow door grating against the concrete slipway. She was on the mainland. After ten years of forced labour on Mull she was finally back on the mainland of what had once been known as the United Kingdom.

She remained hidden under the luggage rack, tangled up in her grimy tarpaulin as the few passengers disembarked. Well dressed officers' wives and merchants who'd somehow, against all odds, turned the end of the world into profitable businesses, selling weapons, food and anything else that those in power needed.

Jessamy's bare legs and feet were no longer numb, which was a good thing she thought. But now she found herself shivering uncontrollably. Dressed in nothing but skimpy black lingerie and the MTP jacket she'd stolen from Butcher Beaconsfield she certainly wasn't dressed for the weather. Even in July the temperature dipped well below freezing at night - another reminder of the time ten years before when the sky had rained death ...

She waited for what seemed like hours until the sounds of unloading and the shouts of the ferry workers finally ceased, then crawled slowly and stiffly from her hiding place. The ferry had been left in darkness. Unless it served any of the other islands in the Inner Hebrides it was quite possible that the Loch Striven wouldn't move for another month. The dim light through the large windows illuminated virtually nothing. Jessamy could barely see her own feet.

Looking outside, Oban was in darkness. Jessamy could make out perhaps only a dozen tiny pinpoints of light in the entire town, no more. From Pulpit Hill across to McCaig's Tower and on over to the Esplanade with its imposing cathedral, the place looked deserted, abandoned. But she could dimly make out figures still moving about on the dock outside - the orange glow of a cigarette, the weak beam of a headtorch - so she decided to explore on board the ferry until her eyes had become properly accustomed to the dark to make her escape.

Feeling with her outstretched hands, Jessamy found stacks of empty pallets, neatly folded tarpaulins and rope, where before the passenger lounge had been. Thousands of tourists would have used the ferry to visit the surrounding islands, using Oban as a base. Before the strikes. Before Thanatos. As her eyes grew used to the gloom, she saw signs for muster points in the event of an emergency, instructions on how to don a lifejacket and a door labelled 'CREW ONLY'. Without hesitation she pushed the door open and stepped over the threshold into the top of a dark stairwell leading down.

Jessamy shivered, not just because of the cold. The bottom of the stairwell ended in utter blackness. At least, she thought, if there were no lights down below it should mean that there were no people. She stepped carefully down the steep metal steps, staring ahead into the darkness, listening for the faintest sound. The strong smell of diesel and grease grew stronger as she descended.

Having grown up without the lasting after effects of watching any of Hollywood's better horror films and without having read Stephen King or Dean Koontz, Jessamy had no fear of the dark. In her experience human beings were the only thing worth being afraid of, and the horrific things that they could inflict on one another.

Jessamy passed through another doorway into a wider space. A subtle difference in air pressure told her she was in a room of some kind. An engine room perhaps? She stretched out her hands, hoping to touch something but at the same time dreading that she would. She flinched as her fingertips encountered something soft. Cloth?

Jessamy ran her hands up and down whatever the thing was. It felt Iike a garment of some kind, hanging up with a pocket weighted down by something heavy. As she shuffled closer, she nudged a toe against something hard that moved slightly.

Reaching down, her hand found a pair of stout work boots, "Yes!" she said out loud, as her feet had been completely bare since her escape from Torosay Castle. Jessamy snatched up the boots and the garment and crept back upstairs to the ferry's main deck.

The garment turned out to be an oil stained boiler suit. Much too big for her but she was so cold she was past caring what she looked like. Jessamy stripped out of the corset that the woman Maria had dressed her in and the shredded remnants of her stockings and quickly slipped into the boiler suit, conscious of her nakedness. She turned the sleeves and legs up by a good few inches and gratefully put Beaconsfield's jacket back on. After ten years wearing footwear that was too big for her, the boots weren't a problem. She tucked the tongues in and laced them up as tightly as she could, "Right. Time to get off this ferry," she muttered.

It was a simple matter to get below onto the ferry's car deck, empty now except for a few items of broken down farm machinery. Listening and watching she sneaked forward towards the open bow door, keeping close to the bulkhead. A concrete ramp led up onto the dock.

Jessamy was two thirds of the way up, her head drawing level with the top of the wall beside her when a shout broke the silence, "OY! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?"

A torch beam shone in her face, effectively blinding her, and Jessamy heard jangling keys as heavy footsteps hurried nearer. If whoever it was realised she'd come from the ferry, she'd be arrested and sent back. If, however she could convince them that she was from Oban she might be able to bluff her way out.

"H-hi. I'm sorry," she began, "I was just looking for f-food. I'm starving."

The torchbeam waivered, "Well you won't fuckin' find any on board there. What's yer name and where are you from?"

"Uh, J-jessica," said Jessamy, remembering Beaconsfield's mistake with her name, "I'm from O-oban."

"Local girl eh?" the voice changed, seeming to relax, although with the torchbeam in her face, Jessamy still couldn't make out its owner, "well it just so happens I've got a bite to eat inside the ferry terminal there. If you want to come with me I'll ... fill you up, heh."

It wasn't so much what he said but the way the torch man spoke that warned Jessamy not to trust him. He sounded just like the lecherous Angus back at the distillery.

She hung back, folding her arms across her chest.

"Wossa matter girl? Don't you want some grub?"

Jessamy's folded arms pressed something hard against her ribcage. She'd completely forgotten there'd been something in the boiler suit's pocket, "Wh-what do I have to do for the food?" she asked. There was nothing given freely in the world, not any more.

"I dunno," said the torch man, stepping closer, "we'll sort something out. Pretty girl like you. A quick blowjob maybe?"

Jessamy had no idea what a blowjob was and had no intention of finding out. Her hand squirmed inside her MTP jacket and found the boiler suit's pocket. She reached inside, curious to know what the heavy thing was inside.

"Y'know, suck my cock so I cum all over your pretty little face," the torchbeam moved down to inspect her chest, revealing Jessamy's first glimpse of the man's face. He was grey and weathered, quite possibly as old as Snook.

Jessamy's hand closed around something cold and metallic in the boiler suit's pocket. Something with an ergonomic textured grip that fit snugly into her palm when her fingers closed around it. Part of her mind knew what it was before she took it out but she still felt a thrill of surprise as she saw the Glock for the first time by the light of the man's torch.

"Oh fuck," whispered the man, backing away a few steps, "look I didn't mean ... HELP! SOMEBODY HELP!"

Jessamy had expected a grovelling apology, but not for torch man to start screaming at the top of his voice. She had no idea who he was calling to or how many of them there would be when they came. So she ran. Clutching the handgun tightly, she pushed past torch man and sprinted along the dock towards the town, the oversized boots clump clumping on the oily tarmac.

"BRI! SHES HEADING YOUR WAY! SHE'S GOT A FUCKING HANDGUN!"

Rather than run straight into Bri, whoever he was, Jessamy made a swift right hand turn down a narrow alleyway, emerging into a wide open space where pairs of long rusted metal rails stretched off into the darkness, the ground between them choked with sickly looking weeds. Every few yards, big white signs announced 'OBAN' in faded black letters. She'd last been here ten years before, when she'd stepped off the train after traveling all the way from Cornwall. Oban railway station.

Running footsteps behind reminded her not to hang around. A spray of bullets peppering the side of a van beside her emphasised the point, showering her with chips of brick and cement. She could have returned fire but she'd never used a gun before and didn't even know if the thing was loaded.

"Psst!" called a voice from the direction of the station building.

Jessamy turned. A pale hand beckoned from the doorway.

The alternative was to be either shot or raped (or both) by whoever was chasing her down. Jessamy decided for one of the very few times in her life to put her trust in someone else. She ran towards the station building, feeling light headed now from the exertion and lack of food.

"Quick, follow me," whispered the dark clothed figure. Jessamy couldn't tell if it was old, young, male or female. Apart from the hands it was covered from head to foot. A black scarf of some kind covered its face under a black beanie.

Jessamy followed as the figure led the way through the small station building, past the ticket desks and right, into a short corridor of left luggage lockers.

"THEY WENT INSIDE!" shouted a voice from outside. Through the broken windows, a torch beam swept the room, glinting on shards of safety glass littering the filthy floor.

Jessamy's rescuer pushed through into the ladies toilets, and immediately ducked into one of the stalls.

"We can't just hide in here," hissed Jessamy, "they'll find us in no time."

The figure dropped to the rubble strewn floor and squirmed into a jagged hole where the toilet had once been connected to the wall. The gap was so small and low down that Jessamy had completely missed it. She wasted no time in following.

"ANY SIGN?"

"NAH, YOU BRI?"

"NO MATE. CHECK THE BIG LUGGAGE LOCKERS. Little bitch must be in 'ere somewhere ..."

The voices faded as Jessamy and her rescuer emerged in the empty shell of a large shop, the shelves all but emptied long ago and much of the shelving itself carted away to be repurposed. Without checking to see that Jessamy was still following, the figure tiptoed across the glass littered floor to another tiny hole, barely wide enough for even Jessamy to squeeze through.

And so it continued. The two of them bypassed the town centre completely by sneaking through adjoining buildings and hurrying across debris choked back streets when they needed to emerge into the open. Several more times they heard gunfire in the distance, but they encountered no-one. Over a hundred steep stone steps led them up the hill almost to the foot of McCaig's Tower, the enormous folly built in a more civilised time that overlooked the town.

"H-how ... how much farther?" panted Jessamy. She was utterly exhausted. The sky was gradually lightening in the east and from where they now stood she could see distant plumes of smoke rising into the morning air over on Mull. Torosay Castle was still burning.

"Don't worry, it's all downhill from here," said the figure softly. A girl. Or a very petite woman. Despite the coming dawn, Jessamy still couldn't make out any of her features. Through residential streets of imposing stone houses that, with their views over towards the Inner Hebrides, must have once formed the posh part of town, thought Jessamy, they descended by a circuitous route back towards the harbour.

Jessamy was almost asleep on her feet by this point, blindly following her rescuer through a series of alleyways and derelict buildings littered with bones that appeared to be chosen totally at random.

"Almost there," said the mysterious rescuer, supporting Jessamy's arm as she steered her up a short flight of concrete steps behind the soot stained walls of an old church. Jessamy waited patiently as the girl or woman fished a bunch of keys from her stained goretex mountain jacket and unlocked a faded wooden door.

"This used to be a holiday flat. I know that because I stayed here once with my parents," she explained, ushering Jessamy inside and relocking the door, "I don't usually pick up waifs and strays but I could see you were in trouble."

Jessamy peered around. Through the open doors around the vestibule she could see rooms furnished with mattresses and patched beanbags, a camping stove like some of the crofters used on Mull and a couple of bulging rucksacks propped against the wall. It looked as if someone was getting ready to leave.

In what was presumably the kitchen area, Jessamy's rescuer pulled off her beanie and rolled her Buff down, finally revealing a smiling face with greenish blue eyes and lustrous curly red hair. She appeared to be roughly Jessamy's age. She held out a hand, "I'm Merida. You know ... after the princess in the Disney film. On account of the hair?"

Jessamy shook Merida's hand. She vaguely remembered the red haired heroine from the animated film 'Brave' and had to admit that Merida was the perfect name, "I'm Jessamy. Jessamy Beech."

"Like the colour of jasmine blossoms," said Merida.

Jessamy had never known what her name meant and had no idea what a jasmine blossom was, "Are you here alone?"

"No," answered Merida, "Ewan's out clothes shopping. He's ... sort of my boyfriend."

"Clothes shopping?"

"We're leaving Oban. Going to try our luck down south," she indicated the rucksacks, "Ewan reckoned we could do with some extra clothes so he's gone raiding the outdoor shops to see if there's anything left."

"Why didn't you go together?" Jessamy asked.

Merida looked a little uncomfortable, "I uh ... went looking for something else."

Jessamy slumped onto an overstuffed beanbag and stretched her weary legs, "I doubt there's any food left in the shops. Not after all this time."

"I wasn't looking for food," answered Merida. She lit the camping stove and peeled back the lid of a tin of baked beans, "You hungry?"

"Starving," said Jessamy, "but I wouldn't want you to go without."

Merida flapped her hand dismissively, "Pfft. We've got plenty and tins weigh too much anyway. I was, uh ... actually going around all the chemists looking for contraceptives."

"Con-contra ... what?"

"Con-tra-cep-tives," said Merida, frowning, "do you not know what condoms are?"

Jessamy shook her head. She watched hungrily as Merida spooned beans into a small pan and set it on the stove, "I'll explain later. If Ewan's brought back spares in your size, we'll really have to do something about those clothes of yours. Where have you come from?"

"Mull," Jessamy glanced down at Merida's clothes. Stout boots in a purple fabric, black trousers with reinforced knees and a jacket which looked as if it fitted her perfectly.

Merida gasped, "No fucking way. What, working on the crofts under Butcher Beaconsfield?"

"He's dead."

Merida dropped her metal spork with a clatter, "Who? Butcher Beaconsfield?"

"I killed him."

"Fuck! No wonder they were shooting at you! So you're on the run! How did you kill him?"

"Hit him in the head with a shoe while he was trying to rape me," Jessamy looked down, feeling for some reason ashamed for letting things get out of hand with Beaconsfield.

"Oh you poor lass," Merida crossed the kitchen and wrapped her arms around Jessamy. She held her tightly as tears began to sting Jessamy's eyes. But she wasn't going to cry. She wouldn't.

She refused to appear weak in front of a stranger, "I'm okay."

Merida studied her, "You sure? It's not your fault you know ... Ewan, he uh ... saved me. There were three of them. They were going to take turns ..."

Jessamy squeezed her new friend's hand, "You don't have to tell me."

Merida sniffed, "Anyway. Breakfast will soon be ready, then we can get a few hours sleep. You want HP Sauce with yours?"

Jessamy stared at her blankly.

"You don't know what HP Sauce is either? We're going to have to do some serious educating with you, girl. HP Sauce is one of the major food groups ..."

. . .

Jessamy and Merida chatted while they ate, out of date baked beans drizzled with sachets of HP Sauce and stale bread from a bakery on the edge of town. Jessamy had never tasted anything as wonderful for a very long time. The curtains in the flat were kept permanently closed, and with a few cracked windows the place looked abandoned from the outside, Merida explained. Which was why the local Fodders had never discovered their little hiding place. Or 'love nest' as she called it, though that was yet another thing Jessamy had never heard of.

Eventually Jessamy let out an almighty yawn and declared that she couldn't stay awake any longer. Merida showed her to a patched sofa in the living room which was surprisingly comfortable and tenderly covered her with a blanket. Before lying down Jessamy carefully placed the Glock on the floor. She was terrified that she'd accidentally shoot herself in the night. It was indeed loaded, with just three bullets remaining.

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