Short Story Series (EB #2): Grounded

The Short Story Series were originally published on Through Frog Eyes as a collaborative effort between a guest photographer and my writing. I am relaunching the stories individually for all those who are new to the website and Marie Balustrade´s writing. The EB Series features guest photographer Ed Bannister from the USA for four stories that are supplementary to Wings At Dawn, featuring lead character Alexander Adler. Click HERE for the full set.

Desert Awe ©Ed Bannister

The road seemed to stretch out endlessly in front of him, but Alexander did not mind it one bit. He enjoyed driving for the sheer pleasure of driving, indulging in that intangible thrill of movement and landscape fused into one. The moment he obtained his driver’s license at 18, he discovered that a firm grasp of the steering wheel, eyes on the road and a large bubbly drink within reach was the best combination that had allowed him to do some of this best thinking over the years. It really didn’t matter whether he was stuck in traffic in a large metropolis somewhere around the world, or bouncing around in a four-wheel-drive in the middle of nowhere, the main thing was that he was driving and felt in control, something that could easily go awry. As the ocean remained a distant memory from his last stop, Alexander relaxed and focused his attention on the barren land before him. “It reminds me of myself somehow” he said out loud, “devoid of eccentricities.” He grinned at the thought of his best friends objecting violently to that particular self-assessment, but he didn’t care and stopped the car again, took off his socks and shoes and stepped onto the hot sand. Eccentric or not, this was a ritual he indulged in, embracing the desert awe.

This was no ordinary escapist joyride for Alexander today. The informant he was meeting requested a location as far away from civilization and modern conveniences as possible. All Alexander had been given were GPS coordinates and nothing else, so he had no clue if he about to meet men at the edge of the canyon or women at the foot of a waterfall. For all he knew it could well be just a tent pitched under a tree, and since all the arrangements had been made via encrypted email, there were no guarantees for what he was walking into. But that was what his life was all about, dealing with the unknown and drawing out the best of a rotten situation in order to present it in an objective manner. Sometimes a little tweak here and there would spell all the difference between life and death, or as another friend put it, the fine line between stupidity and bravery.

Men at the edge of the canyon ©Ed Bannister

He released his foot from the gas pedal and slowed down to a crawl, keeping a close eye on the navigation system. This was one meeting he could not afford to mess up. Alexander parked the car two meters away from the exact location and looked for any surreptitious movements, both animal and human. His danger sensors were on full alert, knowing that it was more than just a story or his reputation at stake. The lives of hundreds of men and women could be saved if he did his job right and positioned his contacts in the right places without blowing anyone’s cover.

Squinting his eyes to compensate for the glaring sun, he pulled out the binoculars form the glove compartment to have a better scan of the area. One couldn’t be too careful in a situation like this and since he had no idea what to expect, the further the line of vision the better. Half an hour had passed, and the only company he had so far had been a nonchalant rattle snake and two vultures that seemed to be in a hurry to beat the others to a fresh carcass. An approaching noise above him drew his attention away from the predatory birds and Alexander’s jaw dropped in amazement. There was no fancy helicopter, or outlandish military vehicle, not even a state-of-the-art drone that dropped the package on the hood of his car. He had never seen anything like it before, and the sight of four messenger pigeons flying straight towards him, each attached to a corner of the small package, left Alexander completely stunned. The informant was going through great lengths to cover up his or her tracks and left nothing to chance in terms of digital footprints.

The birds had been specially trained, that much was clear. They were definitely not run-of-the-mill messenger birds and had been taught to release the mechanism attached to the package. Once the birds released the item, a small built-in parachute burst open and the package glided gently towards it final destination. Once Alexander managed to close his mouth again, he jumped out of the car to retrieve the small box. Inside it was a small flash drive, which he quickly plugged into his laptop and eagerly awaited the revelation. Was this the information he had been seeking? Or were they instructions to another location? When the screen came to life, Alexander stared in horror and disbelief. 

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