A must read miracle with a delightful recipe that will tantalize!

“Move, Dave!” Shelby screamed into her mask as she ran towards her crew leader. Her hands connected with his back, pushing him out of the way.

The branch came crashing down in a hail of smoke, sparks and thunder. It slammed down on her left shoulder, knocked her helmet and breathing apparatus off. Charred earth dug into her cheek and chin before heavy darkness took the place of smoke and dust.

This was the worst bushfire the Sunshine Coast Hinterlands had experienced; and on Christmas day, of all days.

A sharp light darted across her vision and a myriad of muffled voices echoed around her as…

“Hello, Pumpkin.”

Shelby spun on her heel to find herself back in Maleny in her Nana’s kitchen.

“Oh God…” She slapped her hands across her mouth. “I’m dead!”

“He’s not here this very moment, and no, not yet.” Nan’s bright, hazel eyes shone with love from where she sat at her old wooden kitchen table, chopping green and red maraschino cherries.

“Well, those nuts won’t crush themselves. Wash your hands and get to it.” Nan said as though there were nothing odd about their current situation. Nan had passed away ten years ago.

 

 

Shelby looked around her. Everything was just as she remembered, down to the multi-coloured crochet blanket hanging over the well-worn leather couch. How had she gotten from the bushfire to here?

“Well, come on then,” Nan urged and returned to the cherries.

Shelby silently obeyed her grandmother. She pulled off her bulky fire-proof jacket, and hung it on the hook on the back of the kitchen door. She washed her hands and came to sit opposite Nan.

“If I’m not dead, why am I here, Nan?” She dug a hand into the container full of walnuts, and dropped them on the wooden chopping board in front of her.

“Can’t you remember what happened, Pumpkin?” Nan stopped her chopping, frowned, then turned her attention to the slices of sponge cake soaking in Old Brown Sherry.

“I was fighting a fire and saw a branch about to fall on Da – my crew leader. I – I pushed him out of the way but … I think the branch fell on me…” Shelby swallowed back her tears, “I am dead!”

Nan’s plentiful bosom heaved as she chuckled, “Not quite. And there’s another reason why you pushed him out of the way, isn’t there?”

A flash of light and distant muffled voices drew Shelby’s gaze toward the front door. Tendrils of smoke drifted in from beneath the door and through the keyhole.

“Where am I?”

Nan put down her knife and reached across the table, placing a leathery wrinkled hand on Shelby’s. “You’re here with me. It’s kind of a halfway stop between there.” She nodded up towards the ceiling, “and home.”

But why?

Shelby asked herself.

“To decide, of course.”

“How did you…”

Nan gave Shelby a knowing smile.

“What do I need to decide?” Shelby asked as she picked up a large sharp knife and began to chop and crush the Walnuts.

“Whether to return with me or go back home.” She stood up and walked over to the fridge, “Aaah… the custard’s chilled.” Nan pulled a small silver pot off the shelf. “When I saw the branch fall on you, I asked for a favour in return for one of my favourite Christmas trifles.”

“God eats trifle?” Shelby asked, shocked.

Nan chuckled again. “Oh, I’m sure He’ll want a taste too, but it’s for another…”

Nan came to sit back down. “Now, will you slice those peach halves for me, please?” Nan aimed the business end of her small kitchen knife at a bowl of peach halves soaked in syrup on the table beside her. “You were always afraid of being left alone. From the day your mum dropped you off at my front gate and vanished into thin air. And the day when you found I had simply not woken up. And especially, when you put your life before Dave’s. I was given a peek deep into your heart at that moment. You’d rather have died than loose him. Even though you’d never confessed your feelings.” Nan scooped a tablespoon of red jelly from a bowl which appeared from nowhere, and spread it out across the first layer of soaked sponge.

A sharp prick in Shelby’s arm, and another in her leg made her jump. They were followed by the muffled voices. She looked down at her arm. Nothing!

“Why’d you never tell him?”

“How I feel about him? That would be insane, Nan!”

“He’ll be half a man if you decide not to return.”

“How so? The only person who’s ever loved me was you,” Shelby scoffed as she returned to slicing the peaches.

Shelby!

Her head shot up. “Dave?”

She squinted when her Nan’s face wobbled and distorted. Through a haze, a pair of eyes she’d quietly fallen in love with the day they’d met, appeared. Blue as the brightest sky reflected off an ocean.

Then from Nan’s wrinkly old lips spilled a voice she knew better than her own, Don’t you die on me! Do you hear, Shelly! Hang in there…

Dave.

Dave’s eyes remained staring back at her form Nan’s face.

“You’ve loved him secretly for a while, now haven’t you?”

Shelby had no words, but only nodded.

Nan reached across the table and picked up a few slices of peach, spreading them across the jelly before adding the custard and nuts, and then another layer of sherry-soaked sponge cake. “It’s not been as one sided as you might have thought Pumpkin. You’ve just been too afraid to notice.”

“But what if I take the leap and fall, Nan?  If it doesn’t work out… I have no one… I only have you.” Tears trickled down Shelby’s cheeks as Nan sprinkled the red and green finely chopped maraschino cherries on top of her Trifle.

“You’re not unlovable Pumpkin. Stop trying so hard to convince yourself that you are.”

“I can’t lose someone else, Nan…”

A shiver ran across Shelby’s chest.

Shelly don’t go, hang in there!

“I want to go with you.”

A tingling sensation rippled down her breast bone and the voices grew dimmer, but Shelby’s mind returned to the sad, crisp blue eyes of a man who’d just lost his greatest love.

“And will you be happy knowing you gave up on a chance to have your own family? Love is not something anyone should fear.”

Another tingle, closer to a static shock this time, travelled across her chest and into her heart.

“I will always be with you, Pumpkin.” Nan reached out and stroked her face.

Shelby looked into the blue eyes that weren’t Nan’s but called to her with such love. His devastation at her loss reached out and wrapped itself around her heart.

“He really does love me!”

“Yes, Pumpkin, he does.” Nan smiled.

Sharp, ice cold fingers tore across her chest, jolting her where she sat.

“I love you, Nan. I’ll never forget you.” Shelby cried.

“And I will always be with you.”  Nan’s face and the kitchen faded in to a soft darkness.

Muffled shuffling. Pain. So much pain returned to the surface of Shelby’s consciousness. With effort, she forced her lids to open, revealing a blurry green fog which surrounded her, and a large yellow lump slumped in a chair to her left.

“N-Nan…”

Her voice was hoarse, and her throat ached as though she’d swallowed red hot embers.

The lump stirred, and her focus improved. “D-Dave?”

“Shelly!” Relief and love edged the hoarseness of his voice.

Dave jumped up and came to stand beside her, his face close to hers as his fingers stroked her cheeks.

“Wh-where am I….”

“Sh, don’t speak. You inhaled quite a bit of smoke. You’re in the emergency department at Caboolture hospital. They’re waiting for a bed to open in High Care. God, Shelly, I thought I’d lost you… you saved my life!”

Dave’s voice broke, as diamonds sparkled across the azure of his gaze. He was still dressed in his protective gear and his face was covered in soot which streaked as the tears toppled from his eyes and tumbled down his face.

Shelby reached up and cupped his cheek bringing his face down to her, their lips touching and sending another shock right down to her toes.

“Always knew you two would end up together. Think we knew it before you did, though.” Raf, the large teddy bear in their crew , smiled as he pulled open the green privacy curtain.

Behind him stood a man, tall and blond, with eyes of coal, and dressed in black scrubs. In one hand he held a sickle and in the other, Nan’s Christmas Trifle.

Thank you, Shelby mouthed.

The man smiled before the remainder of their firehouse crew walked straight through him toward her bed.

 

Written by Michelle Dalton

Sacrifice

By MC D’Alton

Sophie’s gaze ran up and down the long bronze list bolted onto the memorial.  Her eyes blurred as she blinked back the tears. The soldiers forever immortalized, never to grow old:

Corporal James Stewart.

Lance Corporal Cassidy Newman.

Lance Corporal Shamus Bailey Wilson.

The names on the plaque stared back at her with a cold, hard accusation.

“I should have brought you home,” she whispered to their shadows.

ANZAC Lest We Forget

Retired, Royal Australian Navy Pilot, Lieutenant Sophie Murray, swallowed back the pain. It hurt to stand, but she refused to sit. It hurt to be out here where all and sundry could stare at the melted skin which was her face, but she’d not let those boys down a second time.

It was an unusually balmy April morning out at Beachmere ANZAC memorial. The small sea side town where three of the diggers from the 4th Battalion, who were on her Chinook helicopter, had grown up.

It had been a simple mission. Fly in, drop the troops and supplies, collect those bound for leave and fly out.

It was supposed to be a relatively safe airspace, over friendly territory – but relative had turned out to be, well, relative. She’d pulled every trick in the book, but the three missiles launched at once had proved an impossibility.

“Come love, the service is about to start,” Max her beloved husband and best friend, urged.

It had taken months, if not years to accept he would not desert her. She didn’t deserve him. And still, after five years of rehabilitation and psychiatric assistance, it was hard to allow him to touch her, but Max stayed. His love for her swam in those big brown eyes, his loyalty unlike any she’d ever come across. She’d told him many times to leave, to find happiness somewhere else, but he’d refused.

“We made a vow, and I love you more than I love the air I breathe. To leave you would be asking me to carve open my chest and drop my beating heart on the sidewalk.”

Today, five years on, she was strong enough to attend a dawn service. She needed to look those families in the eye, and apologize for the fact she’d never brought their sons and daughter home.

The Chaplain stood at the foot of the obelisk and opened his small bible. Its black, leather cover frayed and wrinkled from years of use.

“Good morning all, today we gather here…”

Sophie’s mind drifted, like a bird floating on the warm air currents, back in time. To a place where no bible, prayer, or God had been present to save, forgive, or bring peace.

Screams echoed and failing turbines whined. They’d taken a hit to the tail of her  CH-47. Her feet desperately worked the pedals. She leaned back using her body weight to help steer the collective throttle, and cyclic as they tumbled out the sky. She’d managed to send out a single Mayday.

A sensation of complete freedom and of absolute fear invaded her insides and knocked the air from her lungs as they tumbled down…

The fall back to earth was like watching a film frame in slow motion. Clouds of burning fuel puffing past, flailing arms, legs and gear bouncing around the inside of the Chinook. Every cell in her body reverberated, her brain shifted, blood vessels burst and bones shattered like cheap, china dinner plates flung against a wall, as the helicopter connected with the desert floor.

Her face burned, her left eye lost its sight, the flesh of her left arm, shredded and the bone pulverised.

Fear and pain drenched with yowling and leaking aviation fuel overwhelmed any senses not rattled by the crash. She called for help – but all the instrumentation was dead or smouldering. She dragged herself from the pilot’s seat. They had to find cover and quick. Whoever had shot them out of the sky was close by, and would be here soon to make sure their mission was successful.

She and two other soldiers managed to pull the injured into a cave. Her arm throbbed and the skin on her left cheek and neck, burned like a hundred bonfires on Guy Fawkes. She left a Sergeant and his shell-shocked Corporal with what supplies they could salvage and what ammunition they could save.

“You can’t go back Lieutenant, they’re dead and you’re injured.”

She ignored the Sergeant’s plea. She couldn’t leave them there, the three diggers who hadn’t survived. Everyone was to return home, whether whole, broken, or in a wooden casket; no one got left behind.

She’d pulled the first digger out of the wreck when something hard connected with the back of her skull.

Six months she’d spent in a hole. An old dried up well in the middle of nowhere was what she got to call, bed and toilette; only dragged out with a rope when they decided it was time to question her. Fists pummelled her face, her back and her belly. Knives sliced her legs and red hot cigarette butts were pushed in to the soles of her feet – but she’d stood her ground, had given them nothing, not even when they’d used her for fun.

A digger regiment on patrol had found and rescued her.

All the pain, all the nightmares, all the clawing herself back up to the light, meant nothing. Her people had managed to rescue the survivor’s days after they’d been shot down, but not the dead. Three diggers lay buried beneath alien sands between the mangled, decomposing shell of the Chinook; all because she’d failed to bring them home.

The Chaplain closed his little black book as the sun appeared above the watery horizon across Moreton bay.

A bugle player lifted his brass instrument to his lips. A man, two heads taller than her Max, came to stand beside her.

Anzac Lest We Forget

“We’ve never blamed you Lieutenant. What you sacrificed, what you gave, can never be put in words or material value. Cassidy knew this. Like me, it was her passion to serve her country. To make the world a safer place for everyone else. I honour your service and dedication, as I do hers. I might never hold my baby girl in my arms again, but, I find solace in the fact she died for us to have this,” he spread his arms to take in the beautiful day.

Sophie turned and faced the man. His black hair streaked with silver at his temples, a crew cut told her he was ex-military. His eyes as blue as the autumn sky above, drowned in his loss. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed his grief. He did not flinch as he looked down at her scared face, but smiled and placed a hand on her shoulder. She did not pull away.

The Last Post echoed from the bugle’s bell.

The mournful, eerie tune surpassed the barriers of day-to-day existence. Its evocative wail pushed beyond religion, colour, class and circumstance. It was the people’s anthem, with notes which heralded the fallen. Music with which to farewell the great warriors. A tune ingrained forever in the many broken hearts, for the sacrifice made by those who died, and those forever lost.

“Today is a good day,” Sophie clasped her husband’s hand.

Max looked down at their hands and up to his wife, “Yes, it sure is.”

Anzac Lest We Forget

Author’s Note:
I may not be Australian by birth, but I take ANZAC day and all days celebrating and remembering our fallen men and women very seriously.
I dedicate this story to all the men and women who’ve sacrificed their lives so we may live in peace.

A Dark and Aussie Knight

By Melanie Page

“Gimme your money! Now!”

Carly took one look at the dude in the balaclava, some kind of thin, black handled knife in his hand. Sorry boss, my six week, ladies self-defence class isn’t up to it.

Another gust of frigid August misery came through the open door of the petrol station. Outside the rain was pelting down and visibility was stuffed. Quarter to four on a Sunday morning was pretty dead normally and tonight, no one wanted to be out. It was the perfect night for a burglary. Continue reading “A Dark and Aussie Knight”