This is the first chapter from my book Sam, an ex-soldier who is trying to rediscover himself after twenty years of service, stumbles upon a mysterious alien presence in rural Wales. The rest of the book is available from all major ebook retailers
With a determined look, Sam took out a rather tatty-looking case from the flimsy bed-and-breakfast plywood wardrobe. The abuse of thousands of miles of travel disguised the fact that the case was actually an extremely expensive military grade valise. It would survive an air crash with nothing more than a few scratches and it would prove equally as tough to anyone trying to pry it open. Sam inserted an odd-looking key into the lock aperture and released the mechanism with a combination of his fingerprint and vocal key phrase. The combination of key, various fingerprints and phrases allowed for various security settings to be evoked. Sam had it set to either open, secure lockdown for one hour or secure lockdown for twenty-four hours. He didn’t have, nor did he desire to have installed the more elaborate options of SOS call-out with GPS co-ordinates, secure thermite eradication of the contents or the release of various gaseous compounds depending on the desired outcome.
It was far beyond Sam’s requirements and his financial scope to purchase such a case. Matt Johnson had asked him to user test it and a smaller case over a year ago. It was part of Matt’s new security portfolio for the one-percent executives and the final version could have a retina and finger vascular pattern verification as an optional upgrade.
With a solid-sounding clunk, the clasps opened and Sam removed the smaller, sleeker black case from his amongst his clothes. This particular case had arrived yesterday, upon his request to Matt, tattily wrapped and couriered to his B&B as a disguised eBay purchase.
Again he inserted the key, activated the barely visible print scanner with his little pinkie and carefully sang the first two lines from Louis Prima’s 1946 swing classic, “Just a Gigolo”, at the correct tempo of 127 beats per Minute Matt had programmed in seven swing classics which rotated on a daily basis. This was the lowest security setting, the most severe being a new passphrase for each day of the year. Matt had chosen classic swing tunes as his current girlfriend was an avid Lindy Hopper and her enthusiasm for the genre was rubbing off on him.
‘Matt, you’re a dick! Even with all of your money you couldn’t be a gigolo. More so now you’ve grown that hideous mouth brow.’ During a scheduled maintenance inspection of the cases Matt had let slip that the “test user” version recorded for sixty seconds after verification, to allow the beta tester to leave comments. Sam took advantage of this to frequently leave suggestive and semi-constructive comments for his close friend and quite possibly future employer. If nothing else it would give the tech guys a laugh.
Sam carefully removed the items from the pre-moulded foam. He placed a Glock 20 on the bed alongside three empty magazines, a box of 10mm hollow-points, an adapted holster for concealed carry in his jacket, two finger-hooped throwing knives, a Kubaton disguised as a pen and a powerful LED pocket torch.
With slow but firm precision, he loaded 15 hollow-points into the magazines, having checked the tension in the springs first. A common rookie mistake was to leave the magazines loaded in storage, causing the spring tension to decrease with fatigue and consequently causing a jam at a most inconvenient time. Sam slowly inserted a magazine and cocked the weapon, the smell of the gun oil filling his nostrils as the first bullet entered the chamber. He ejected the magazine back into his hand to insert another round and then replaced it back into the butt of the Glock. Sam placed the gun in the holster and returned it to the bed.
He left the G29 backup pistol and ankle holster in the case along with the spare barrels and firing pins for each gun. He meticulously locked both cases and returned them to the wardrobe, draping the sleeve of his shirt across the top, the button aligned with a small stain as a simple tell in case of snoopers.
Donning his favourite tactical coat, a charcoal black jacket he had bought in the States, he started to load it up. This jacket was designed by his favourite garment manufacturer in collaboration with a bestselling thriller author. God knows why they chose an author to help with the design, but they came up with an impressive and usable nondescript carry system that was comfortable and practical. At only $200 off-the-shelf stateside, he considered it a bargain.
Being right-handed, Sam mounted the holster into the outside-left chest carry pocket, which made it float just below his left pectoral muscle. He’d had the pocket interior adjusted to mount the holster in the correct position for him. The two finely balanced throwing knives slid into the sleeve cuff pockets with ease. He always kept the adaptive sheaths inserted in the sleeves for convenience. The rest of the gear was stashed in the appropriate pockets, mostly indicated by little sewn-in pictogram labels.
Sam looked across the dimly lit room towards the bottle of Scotch whisky. It only contained a mouthful of what the Scots call 'the water of life'. The bottle was one of several concerns at the moment, but it was something that had troubled him more than the other odd things that had happened over the last few weeks. Its presence prompted an epiphany, a realisation that things were not right and a series of discoveries that had riled Sam’s calm demeanour.
The previous Saturday, he had attempted to walk from his cheap boarding that was situated just outside the old tired market town of Wrexham, and had intended to traverse over the relatively small Mountain in Minera. He “came to” wandering a trail a few miles further along carrying the aforementioned bottle, feeling groggy, his breath stinking of whisky and with a headache from hell. Whilst he was no newcomer to hangovers, he seldom drank to excess anymore and never whilst out walking.
In fact he only ever drank whisky in memory of fallen friends and comrades on the anniversary of their passing. This was his old squad’s tradition that would stay with him for the rest of his life. The harsh taste as he drank a shot for each friend he’d lost was not just caused by his dislike for whisky, but due to the loss and emptiness he felt every time. With over twenty years of service behind him, he had lost quite a few good friends. Four nights ago he had toasted Corporal Danny Burgess’s life, lost in a needless skirmish in the first year of Sam’s active duty.
Personal body armour will only protect certain parts of your body; mobility and weight being key factors in what you can or cannot wear for different scenarios. Danny took a bullet across his exposed windpipe from a robed adversary that sprung up from behind a wall, spraying bullets randomly like a 1920s TV gangster. Others popped up from ravines and from behind the ramshackle buildings. Far from the frontline, on the outskirts of a liberated and supposedly safe village, this was not the welcome the squad had anticipated.
Danny bled out in front of Sam quickly, although at the time it had seem like eternity as Sam tried to staunch the flow with his hands. Crimson red froth bubbled out from between Sam’s fingers and out of Danny's mouth and nose as he was simultaneously dying from exsanguination and asphyxiation. The fear in Danny's eyes mirrored Sam’s. Slowly the spark of life faded and Danny’s hands that had been gripping so hard, almost as if he could hold on to Sam he could hold on to life, released and fell to the floor, creating a puff of dust that then settled and mingled with the arterial spray. Danny had died and the tremendous sound of the battle continued on around them, but it hadn't drowned out the horrendous gurgling sound of his last breath. The rest of the squad had supplied covering fire whilst Sam had tried to treat their fallen comrade.
Sam’s senses came back to the battle at hand. He now heard the short controlled bursts of suppression fire from the LSW and shorter bursts from SA80s. The louder barks of Kalashnikovs faltered, as did the sound of bullets impacting all around. Their ambushers were poorly trained and most had fired off the majority of their ammunition within the first minute of the ambush. Torsos and heads popped out of cover to fire gangland style, AKs held away from the torso or from the hip, allowing the recoil to raise the barrel up.
The rest of the squad survived the badly orchestrated ambush intact. A much younger and inexperienced Sam acted on the procedures that the constant training of the military ingrained into him for just such an occasions: through muscle memory formed by constant rigorous combat scenarios, learnt by rote, designed solely to get you through such situations. Between that and the organisation skills that were barked from Sargent Trooper, a most unfortunate name for a soldier, and sheer bloody willpower to avenge the death of their friend, they overcame the aggressors.
At the end there was a body count of twelve, including Danny and three badly wounded attackers. None of them looked old enough to shave, let alone handle an automatic rifle. Amid rather harsh questioning of the survivors, it transpired that they were laying in ambush for a rival village and hadn’t expected the soldiers to be passing. The incident, like many others, never made it back to the British public’s awareness.
Sam shook and cleared his head. He had paid homage to Danny's passing on Thursday and would relive the horror, but more importantly celebrate the life and memories of Danny again in twelve months, just as he did for so many others.
Part of the puzzle was why he had supposedly sobered up whilst walking several miles away from his intended destination, the desolate Minera Mountain. And why whisky? He had no memory prior to this, a vague recollection of climbing the bleak terrain on a seldom trod animal path and then… Nothing.
This simple walk across the Mineran landscape had thwarted him several times and, in hindsight, in suspicious circumstances. The first time he had tried to traverse the mountain, he had chosen a route parallel to the commonly used Clywedog Trail. Offset by a mile or so, as Sam preferred solitude, his GPS and phone failed as he got nearer to the mountain. This was nothing uncommon in mountainous areas, and as he progressed even further amongst the rocky outcrops even his old-fashioned compass started to move erratically. Puzzled, but again not overly concerned as the large iron deposits in the old mining area could account for this, he continued on. His ascent became more difficult, more of a climb than a walk and he remembered thinking it certainly wasn't a sheep track anymore, there must be mountain goats around. The next thing he remembered was finding himself sat down by a stream a mile or so to the east, with his water flask in one hand and a half-eaten chocolate bar in the other. His head was feeling foggy, like the onset of a bad cold, and he could not for the life of him remember how he got there. His first fear was that it might be the onset of post-traumatic stress causing blackouts. He had never suffered them before, but he knew some who did.
With hindsight he now realised that he should have been more suspicious, and not doubted his own mental state.
The second time was almost a week later, the day after his friend’s wedding, which was the sole reason he was staying in North Wales. It was, in honesty, a mediocre affair at a run-of-the-mill hotel on the outskirts of the town. Nobody had warned the owners that a deluge of current and ex-military would swarm into their abode like a devouring plague of locusts. The food had run out early on and people had had to order out for pizza. Sam had known for a while that he was no longer a big drinker and seeing the pace his old friends and colleagues were setting at the bar, he had instead turned his attentions elsewhere and futilely sought solace with the bridesmaids.
He had woken up alone. A B&B is a lonely place to be after a wedding. To wake up with strange scents, or more to the point, smells that were not from the familiar army dormitory. God, that sounds so bad, Sam thought as he pushed the chintzy quilt to one side and groaned as his head politely reminded him that humans and alcohol really don’t get along with each other. Even to a person who liked to be alone with nature, to listen to the call of the wilderness and preferred to be at one with the open sky, can be reminded that sometimes people need more than solitude. His previous life’s mistress had been a khaki uniform and he no longer had her. He didn't really have any living family and damned few civilian friends.
Upon feeling the walls of his room enclose upon him, he decided that a bit of Welsh scenery and fresh air would perk him up. He was only stopping in Wales for another week, then it was time to see Matt in Manchester and discuss his offer of becoming an operative in his corporate security firm. Sam wasn’t thrilled with the opportunity. Society could afford to lose a few of the rich, pimple-faced executives with cosmetically rebuilt columellae, whose egos led them to believe they were important enough to require protected chauffeuring. Sam pictured it as babysitting inebriated, coke snorting, philandering asshats. It was a living and it would pay well, boy did it pay well, but was it really what he wanted?
With a maudlin head, he’d set off for Minera Mountain again. On that second attempt he had woken up at the bottom of a ravine, badly bruised, clothes shredded and he had a sore gash on his head which had by then clotted. He had berated himself for what could only have been his clumsiness, although he could not understand how a twenty-year, surefooted veteran could make such a stupid and what would have been fatal slip in his previous career. He could not account for a couple of hours and was concerned that, whilst he did not feel cold, he must have been unconscious on the ground for a quite a while. A hungover medic from the previous night’s wedding festivities reluctantly agreed to call into Sam’s B&B. After giving him a quick once-over, and telling Sam not to go walking when still drunk, he prognosed that his thick skull was normal except it housed a Homer sized brain.
With only a day left before Tuesday’s meeting with Matt, he had decided upon one last trip to Minera, to beat that damned mountain.
He didn't like to give in or fail, he always strove to overcome obstacles and he wouldn’t give into the inexplicable foreboding that his inner voice was expressing. Why would he be worried about a small Welsh mountain? He’d been in worse mountain ranges and ones where nearly every goat herder held an ageing Kalashnikov. This was possibly the last of his free time before he settled down, the last of the global roaming expeditions and he didn’t want it to be marred by one little hummock in Wales. His “walkabouts” had been as much about him finding himself again as it was about discovering the now non-war-torn parts of the world that he had seen as a soldier. Sam felt he needed to revisit some of the towns and villages that he saw from behind the sights of his SA80 or only knew as bombed-out wasteland. Part of him needed to know that they had recovered, that the people had continued regardless of what atrocities that had befallen there. He needed to see there was good in the world and that he himself could move on. Twenty years of army life and the experiences therein had left him with a jaded and sad view of humanity.
The whisky was an obscure Scottish single malt called Glendrumlindeen, aged twenty years and the label declared they were spent in a mix of sherry casks. It was certainly not a brand Sam had heard of before. A quick Google search produced the company website. It displayed a small, family-run Highland distillery which wouldn’t have the capacity to sell large amounts wholesale. They did offer an e-commerce section on their website and the questionable bottle was available for a hefty sum of £99.99 excluding postage.
Jesus, I wish I remembered drinking that, Sam thought as he unscrewed the bottle. He swirled the dregs around the bottom and sniffed as the aroma emanated from the bottle’s orifice. Dark, moody and a slight hint of burnt wood, I’d say, Sam mused to himself, but I’m certainly no connoisseur.
He’d called in a favour with one of the only army nerds that he knew. Forty-five minutes later he was looking at the previous year’s commerce history for the site.
A quick text search via Ctrl and F for the term “Wrexham” brought up only one entry for the surrounding area: a case of 12 bottles that was sent to a residence near Minera twelve weeks ago. Nothing conclusive, but it was certainly worthy of further investigation. Sam typed quickly on the keyboard and brought up a street map and satellite photos of a small hamlet a couple of miles away: the village of Minera. It was a curious mix of domestic and industrial buildings, and from the top-down view, what seemed to be a large courtyard fronted by terraced houses filled the screen. The whole hamlet backed onto a sheer cliff, almost as if it was built into an old stone quarry. With only one road in, it wandered around what could only be described as typical grassy village square. It was certainly large enough for HGVs to drive around as there were two in the satellite photo. There were a lot of cold-looking clouds behind the hamlet. The cliff was high enough to cause an orographic lift, where any warm air was forced upwards into the atmosphere by the obstructing hill, to where it cooled and condensed into clouds. Must be cold and damp there, Sam thought, that hamlet will be over shadowed for most of the morning.
As Sam walked down the worn and creaky staircase, Mrs Williams nosily popped her head out from behind the lounge door. ‘Going out, Sam?’ she enquired. ‘You mind the chill now. It looks warm with that spring sun shining, but once you’re in the shade you’ll feel it. Mark my words.’
‘Thank you, Mrs Williams.’ Sam didn’t actually know her first name as she always referred to herself and her husband as Mr and Mrs Williams. A newspaper would rustle whenever Mr Williams heard his name, as if to prove his very existence. ‘I will keep wrapped up. I might be back late, I have the key.’
‘Ok dearie, we’ll see you at breakfast. Mr Williams bought some lovely tomato sausage for tomorrow, butcher’s best, none of that supermarket rubbish.’
Sam could almost make out the barely discernible mumbled reply from the lounge as he made his way to the front door. ‘See you in the morning, have a nice day, Mrs Williams’.
If you liked chapter one, the rest of the book can be purchased from