Ghost & Mystery short stories by Don Hale
Published by Coast & Country. Copyright 2011 Don Hale.
STORY 1: The Woman in the Red Dress
THE battered old dredger 'Penrose Bay' eased alongside the jetty at Dover Harbour. She had just returned with a most precious cargo, about sixty servicemen, lifted from the bloody, smoke ridden beaches of war-torn Dunkirk.
Once the butt of many a joke in the dockside taverns around Pompey, this rusting old flat-bottomed tub now took centre stage alongside a Frigate, two Destroyers and a host of other smaller naval craft and pleasure boats. This had been its finest hour!
Sergeant Tom Evans grasped at a corroded handrail on its top deck and scanned the waiting crowds on the quayside for familiar faces. After more than two years of military service in France with the outflanked British Expeditionary Force, and thankful to escape from the rapid advance of the German invasion, Royal Engineer Evans was practically back in England again.
His face became contorted though at the prospect of a reunion with his family. The last few days had been a nightmare, facing a desperate rear-guard action, he had become detached from his own unit and was posted 'missing.' Tom worried in case his parents had received that dreaded telegram and remembered, that as an arrogant 19-year old, he had refused their advice. He recalled the rows and bickering and had been glad to join-up in that glorious autumn of '39. Most of what his parents had told him was true. War was certainly no fun! His father knew. He had been wounded and evacuated from the Somme in 1916. Tom too had now seen action in France. He too witnessed the horrors of close conflict and had seen friends killed and wounded.
Tom had waited nearly two days for transport off that horrendous beach. He waded more than half-a-mile out into those freezing shallow but swirling waters with colleagues to find a ship, joining a never-ending human pier of hope. He tried to help others, but injuries and exhaustion took their toll. He couldn't even remember the 'Penrose Bay' arriving. He remembered seeing a ship but the constant bombing, strafing and hours of waiting had confused his already exhausted mind and body. He kept hearing voices and thought someone had once shouted HIS name. The smoke was now thick and acrid. He recalled someone finally pulling him from the water and onto that cold steel decking. All the way home, he suffered from flashbacks. His body trembled with the sounds of war. As his mind drifted again, Tom could suddenly hear the sounds of a band playing, and saw a group of young men in bright blue tunics playing a Vera Lynn number. There was a large banner' stating Welcome Home' draped from a warehouse roof. He instinctively covered his ears. He knew he was safe, but as he closed his heavy eyelids, he could still hear the shells falling and the constant rat-a-tat of machine guns. His grip tightened as the men on the deck suddenly surged forward in their eagerness to disembark. He felt his weakened body wince as his ribs crushed against the protective bulkhead. 'Watch out there!' he bellowed. 'Sorry Sarge,' replied one of the men. Tom Evans was a small, wiry character. As a teenager he believed he could take on the world and once, in 1934, claimed the East London 100-yards championship. Not any more! It took all his strength just to grip that rail and maintain his vantage point.