MIKE JOHNSON - I started writing late in life. Age sixty four to be exact so I suppose that comes under the category: it’s never too late to learn! I’m English from the county of Yorkshire but moved to Spain in the year 2000. My writing career began after meeting other published author’s here on the Costa del Sol. My first novel; Dragon - written in long hand at first would you believe – was edited by my wife who I found was more than capable – and far less expensive – than the Publishers. The next two novels in the series; The Korean Connection and The Buddha in Ice followed soon after. It may be of interest to learn the wrap around front covers were designed by me, and illustrated by a local design company. You have no idea how cost effective that is for a first time writer self-publishing? In between these novels I began writing short stories: The Little Home on Wheels was one of them, but my readers wanted to know; what happened next? The story begins here in Spain in places I have visited and know well.
THE LITTLE HOME ON WHEELS by Michael Johnson
John Spencer gazed across the valley and sighed ‘now is this the best view ever?’ he said to himself as he took in the vista below him.
After four weeks of travelling he had reached the mountains of Granada Spain. In winter the hills would be full of skiers racing down the slopes but this was summer and the only thing that moved was the occasional animal scuttling away to find shade. It was hot, very hot.
John stretched his legs out and massaged his calves. The travelling was fun but it was taking the toll on his muscles. Driving the motorhome was more tiring than he realised. He had made the decision to increase his daily work out and jogging but stopping at a new camp site every few days meant he had to survey the landscape so as not to upset the local farmers by unknowingly trespassing on their land.
That had not been a problem so far, especially since crossing the border into Spain a week ago. The locals had just waved and shouted hello as he passed.
His trip had started in England then to France and now Spain. There hadn’t been any planning it just went that way.
An image of his parents flashed through his mind but was quickly dispelled and forgotten about. They were dead and nothing could change that. A stupid accident and an untimely death on an autobahn in Germany ‘what a dam waste’ was his only words at the funeral.
His father was English but his mother had been French. His sister had not been able to attend the funeral held in his mother’s village near Paris due to complications with her pregnancy. He had scattered the ashes on a local river. The Will had left the estate to both children. It came as no surprise that everything had been organised and well planned.
They had worked for the United Nations as peace envoys for many years. They knew the risks and had planned accordingly ‘just in case’ his father had told him.
All in all a very stressful couple of months. The motor home had been an impulse buy but one that was feeling more like home every day.
‘Well boy I guess it’s time to move on!’ he announced to the dog that immediately jumped up expecting treats.
‘No Scrappy we need to find a decent supermarket I’m afraid. Our supplies are pretty low and that includes dog treats’
Scrappy dropped his ears at the news but took it on the chin. He then commenced a rigorous bout of scratching.
‘I think that shopping list should include shampoo, a collar and possibly some flea powder Scrappy. I suppose I should also take you to a vet to find out if you have an identity chip?’ he said then decided against that idea for now.
The dog had been abandoned at a service station.
The motorhome had pulled into a picnic area after filling up on fuel.
The Border collie had been tied to a tree nearby. John had kept an eye on it for quite a while before he decided the owners were not coming back. It was in a sorry state and in need of water. After untying the dog he approached the service personnel who took one look at the animal and suddenly could not speak any language but their own and in a dialect designed to ward off any attempt at conversation.
Quite frankly they had seen it all before!
‘Welcome aboard Scrappy!’ he announced as he made up a bed for him.
The motorhome continued its journey due south through Spain towards the Costa del Sol coast line.
‘What would you say to a dip in the Mediterranean Scrappy?’ he asked the dog who had now decided the passenger seat had a better view than his bed at the rear.
Scrappy barked clearly liking that idea.
‘Well there’s no rush boy, a couple of days should see us there. I hear the camp sites are very good’ he said smiling.
People with motorhomes and caravans are a friendly lot and always willing to give advice on places to visit.
They weren’t too keen on their young daughters trying to sneak out at night to comfort a single man on vacation though.
‘I’ll tell you this Scrappy she was sixteen if a day. Have you any idea what kind of trouble I would have been in if I had let her in that night?’ he said and shaking his head at the thought.
Past Madrid he had decided to head for town of Grenada. Another two days of sightseeing and he was off once again.
John took his time driving down the meandering road away from the mountains of Sierra Nevada. At every turn there was something to see in the continually changing scenery, either close up or in the distance. He was not aware of the car behind trying to overtake until it roared past in a cloud of dust and pebbles thrown up from the side of the road. He was just about to offer his apologies but the driver was clearly in a hurry to get somewhere.
The car was a Mercedes convertible. The driver was female. It had a scratch on the rear bumper. The number plate was from Monaco. There was no luggage on the back seat. The seats were buff leather.
John had instinctively continued to store the details in his memory as he had been taught by his instructors. He then shook his head to clear his mind but the training was ingrained and almost second nature.
‘Dam it John get a grip’ he scolded himself.
The road continued to twist and turn as it made its way down the mountain side occasionally entering tunnels and going over bridges.
He noticed the skid marks almost immediately.
He slowed the motorhome down and then pulled onto a gravelled picnic area.
The tyre tracks continued on, straight towards a wooden fence. Two stout wooden posts were missing along with most of the barrier.
‘Oh my god no!’ he shouted suddenly realising what must have happened ‘that must be the Mercedes that passed us earlier!’
John was out of the cab and at the fence in seconds. The Mercedes could clearly be seen in the gully below. It was mangled and twisted with the impact but thankfully not on fire. He dashed back to the camper and threw open a locker. Within a few minutes he was securing a rope to a tree. He then began fastening a make shift harness around him. Tossing the rope with all his strength to void it becoming tangled on the bushes below he was just about to descend the slope when a female voice came from behind.
‘That looks pretty dangerous to me?’
‘What!!!’ he gasped surprised.
‘I said that looks pretty dangerous and the car looks a write off. The owner by the way won’t give a dam’
John climbed back up the slope angrily untied the rope and rounded on the girl ‘what the hell is going on. I thought you were in that car down there’
‘I could see that, which is why I came out of hiding’ she replied smiling girlishly.
‘Hiding, why would you be hiding?’ he asked suspiciously.
‘Because the car is not mine’ she answered as though it was obvious.
John scrutinised the girl closely. Not a girl more a young woman he decided. English for sure, possibly upper class from the accent. Not the profile of a car thief that’s for sure.
‘So whose car was it?’
‘It was the Prince’s but don’t worry he has a few more to choose from’.
He was just about to ask her to tell the rest of the story when she cried ‘oh aren’t you gorgeous come her and give me a hug’
It took a few seconds before he realised she was looking at Scrappy.
The dog sensed a friend and responded by jumping up into her arms and licking her face. She was obviously an animal person.
‘What’s his name?’ she asked between licks.
‘Scrappy’ he answered suddenly feeling a little jealous of the attention she was receiving.
‘What a terrible name and why is he so hairy. You know he should be groomed especially in this heat. It’s not expensive you know?’
‘Yes I do know that but it’s not been possible yet, and the cost is not a problem’ he answered now getting irked by her questioning.
‘Sorry if I was I being offensive just being friendly. Do you have a name?’ she asked then waited for a response.
‘John Spencer and you are?’
‘Alexandra Victoria Germaine Trent but you can call me Alex, at your service, and why are you grinning?’
‘You forgot to say Lady in front of it’ he laughed.
‘Well, it’s not a title I use unless I’m with the family. Do I detect a slight French accent?’
John had reverted back to his mother’s accent without realising it ‘my mother was French but my father was English’
‘This sounds interesting tell me more’ she said giving Scrappy another tickle behind the ears.
‘Not so fast. First tell me what happened here’ he said indicating to the smashed barrier.
‘It’s simple really, I ran out of petrol. Listen why don’t we get into that cute little mobile home of yours and get away from here, the police are bound to get curious sooner or later. There’s not much traffic on this road but the few cars that have passed may have reported something unusual going on’
John had to agree with her. Being grilled by the local Guardia was not something he wanted to happen just now.
‘Very well I will drop you off at the first service station we come to’ he said taking his dog back.
‘Thanks. Just let me retrieve my rucksack’ she said moving towards some bushes nearby.
The rucksack was quite large and hefty. It was out of keeping with the flashy car and cultured background of the owner. Alex though picked it up and expertly swung it onto her shoulders.
‘Ok shall we get moving!’ she asked when he didn’t move.
John realised he had been staring and lost in thought ‘sorry’ he muttered ‘you can store the rucksack in one of the empty bedroom cupboards’
‘Bedroom cupboards?’ she replied ‘I do hope you aren’t getting any ideas John Spencer?’
‘What?’ he stammered again ‘of course not, it’s just that they are mostly empty’
‘In that case I will’ she said trying not to burst into hysterics. The embarrassing blush on his face was brilliant to see.
‘Oh this is so cute. It has a toilet, kitchen and even a fridge’ she said rummaging around the inside of the motorhome ‘do you mind?’ she asked holding up a bottle of water.
‘Help yourself. There’s even a shower if you want to use it?’ he said wrinkling his nose.
‘Am I that bad?’ she asked sniffing cautiously ‘well maybe later when we stop’
‘Why don’t you sit in the passenger seat and you can finish your story?’
Scrappy wasn’t too keen on losing his place so he waited until she became settled before jumping up into her lap. Alex just made him comfortable then continued.
‘The car belonged to an African Prince who is currently living the high life in Monaco. Unfortunately most of his people are suffering from the effects of a long drought. The relief agencies have been doing what they can but it doesn’t help when that son of a bitch keeps skimming the donations off into his own bank account in Switzerland’ she snarled angrily ‘sorry but the frustration of seeing people die for lack of water gets me a little angry’
John glanced across at her. The passion was intense. His initial impression of a spoilt socialite was now well out of the window.
‘I confronted him outside a casino in Monaco. Actually I was driving the Mercedes around in circles on the driveway. His bodyguards dragged him away before I could get to him, that’s when the police sirens made me realise I could be in a spot of bother. I high tailed it out of there as you would say. I got this far before the tank emptied’
‘Why didn’t you just fill it up?’ he asked then realised why ‘of course he may have reported it stolen’ he said answering his own question.
‘I stopped then retrieved my rucksack from the boot. It was then I realised I hadn’t put the brake on properly’
John just started laughing. He had the image of her staring in alarm as it crashed through the fence.
‘It’s not funny. I intended to leave it intact so the police would find it. Dad will go ballistic if he ever finds out what I’ve done. The agency won’t be too pleased either’ she said suddenly beginning to think her little escapade could backfire.
‘Who do you work for?’
‘Help the Children. It’s a charity organisation based mainly in Africa. Oh hell you won’t say anything. Will you?’ she asked sitting upright and making Scrappy jump.
‘It’s none of my business’ he said.
‘Thanks I owe you one’ she declared suddenly yawning.
John made a decision ‘the nearest service station is about 20 kilometres away. Why don’t we stop just short of it? There is a campsite noted on the map. You can clean up while I make us something to eat’
‘If you’re sure it’s no trouble that would be great. My smart phone is dead or I would call my family to let them know I’m ok. I guess it can wait until later’
‘I have a charger under the dash you can use that if you want’
‘Wow you think of everything don’t you thanks again’
The motor home continued its journey down the mountains. A large wooden sign indicated a picnic and sightseeing area ‘this must be the one’ John declared, pulling onto the bumpy road.
The gravelled road wound its way through scrubland and trees until it came to a large open space. Dotted all around were concrete benches that had metal grills at the side, an ideal and safe place to BBQ. The pine trees provided shade from the fierce afternoon sun.
‘Is it always this hot’ John asked thankful the motorhome had decent air conditioning.
‘It’s hotter up here in the mountains which is why there is a mass exodus to the coast every August. You’re going to find a big difference when you get down there’
‘Even so I would have expected more people here. This looks like a nice place to stay for a few days’
Alex was thinking the same thing. Apart from one caravan the place was empty.
John slowed the Motorhome to a crawl looking for a place to stop. A woman appeared from behind the only parked caravan. She was hugging a small child.
‘I think that woman is waving to us?’ Alex said.
John altered course slightly and came to a stop beside the caravan. As he jumped down from the cab the reason for the lack of tourists was about to become obvious.
‘Thank goodness someone has come for us I was beginning to worry’ the woman cried obviously relieved.
‘I’m sorry but I don’t know what you are talking about?’ John told her ‘are you on your own?’ he asked now realising the caravan had no car attached.
‘My husband went back the village we passed on the way up here to find a Pharmacist. The little one’ she said holding up the child ‘has a fever so he went to find some medicine for her. That was over an hour ago. He should have been back by now. All the other campers have left. They were all shouting in German or something so we had no idea what was happening’
John looked up as the trees above him began to sway with the wind. His senses were suddenly on full alert. Something was wrong.
There was a soft thumping sound in the distance which he immediately recognised. It was the beat from a helicopters rotary blade above. Something he was more than familiar with.
He sniffed the air ‘I think your German friends were telling you to get out of here’ he told her.
‘What do you mean?’ she asked hugging her daughter tighter.
‘Can you not smell it?’ he asked ‘the smoke’
Alex had now exited the motorhome with Scrappy who was chasing around all excited at the possibility of more people to play with. It lasted all of ten seconds until he froze in his tracks and sniffed the air. He then went over to John with his tail between his legs ‘I know boy you sense it too, we need to get out of here’
‘Is something wrong John?’ Alex asked.
‘Forest fires and quite close I think. This woman’s husband went off to find medicine for the sick child and hasn’t come back. It can only mean he has been prevented by the fire fighters or police from returning to his family’
Alex looked at John a little curious. He seemed to have changed from the happy go lucky tourist to a man of authority who assessed problems in his stride. That was a pretty good deduction at what had happened but not something your average person would conclude ‘what should we do?’
‘Get them to safety’ he said ‘I suggest you pack only essentials and come with us’ he told the woman.
‘God bless you. Just let me get the others’
‘There are others?’ John asked.
‘This is my youngest daughter. We have two more girls in the caravan’
The woman and her daughters collected a few belongings then lined up ready to go. The youngest child was now crying clearly distressed, the other two were clinging tightly to their mothers skirt clearly terrified now.
Alex approached the mother ‘I’m a doctor. Why don’t you give me the child to care for? I have some medicines in my rucksack that should help’
John took that news in surprise. His original assessment of Alex was clearly wrong ‘I must be losing my touch’ he thought.
John approached the second smallest child with Scrappy ‘hello, what’s your name?’
The little girl didn’t answer but her bigger sister did ‘her name is Christina but we call her Connie’ she said.
‘Connie, this is Scrappy my dog. I’m afraid he’s very frightened and needs a friend to look after him. Would you mind holding him for a while, can you do that?’
The little girl eyed the dog suspiciously. It might bite her after all.
Scrappy sensed the hesitation.
John moved the dog closer so she could stroke him. She was just about too when Scrappy took advantage of how close they were and started to lick her face. The little girl was soon laughing and completely under the dogs spell.
‘We need to get moving’ he told everyone ‘Alex, there’s a broadband radio situated under the passenger seat, how is your Spanish’
‘Very good’ she answered in Spanish.
‘Good, then try picking up any signal from the authorities about what’s happening. Try the local stations as well on the radio’
‘Will we be heading back the way we came, up the mountain?’
John had already been considering their options. It sounded the most practical solution but something was telling him that way would get them killed ‘No, we continue down the hill in the direction the wind is blowing’
With the family all aboard and settled John made his way back down the road they had arrived on. He turned right and started down the hill. After less than a kilometre it was obvious why the woman’s husband had not returned. The road was completely obscured with smoke. The fire had roared down the mountain uncontrolled until it came to a natural fire break: the road.
But which way was it now heading he wondered?
The answer came a few seconds later. Flames suddenly erupted to their right. The crackling of wood was clear as sparks flew into the air and settled on the roof of the motorhome. John was undecided as what to do. If he had been alone he would make a dash for it but he had this family to consider.
His mind flashed back to his Instructor at the Military training camp ‘make a decision son, whether it’s the right or wrong one it doesn’t matter but make a decision’
The beating of rotor blades came from above. John looked up and saw a helicopter hovering overhead ‘come on John, you have been up there more times than they have probably, what would you be telling me?’
He looked at the wall of smoke in front. The Sat-Navigation was still working showing a straight road dead ahead. It was his only option.
He put the gear in second and moved forward.
In seconds the smoke swirled around them blocking out the view. It was like driving through thick fog if it wasn’t for the acrid smell. The tyres crunched over fallen branches as they flattened the wood into charcoal.
Suddenly a huge thump hit the motorhome making everyone inside screamed in fear.
John ignored it but switched on his wipers. The helicopter had just dumped its barrel of water all over them ‘that’s exactly what I would have done’ he grinned to himself.
A few seconds later the motorhome was out of the smoke and into the clear road. He resisted the temptation to speed up knowing the worst was behind them.
A few hundred metres further on a Guardia police car was waiting with its lights flashing.
Alex leaned out of the window and took instructions from a relieved looking policeman.
‘He says to pull into the service station and wait for the all clear to proceed. He also said your driver has balls the size of a bull’ she grinned.
The family were re-united soon after. When the tears had subsided the man came over.
‘I will never be able to thank you for what you have just done. The police were threatening to arrest me for my own safety’
‘I’m just glad we were in the right place at the right time’ John answered.
‘My wife says you make a lovely couple by the way’ he said giving them another hug for good measure.
Alex decided not to dispel the thought but nudged John playfully ‘well partner I have to say I agree with that policeman. Entering the smoke took some balls’
‘When I saw the helicopter above me, I just put myself in his position’
‘Modest as well, and I want to know more later on. But for now you have another problem’ she said pointing to the little girl still clinging to Scrappy.
The two had obviously taken to each other, splitting them up was going to be hard.
One hour later the all-clear was announced and they could proceed on their journeys.
John collected the family together in a group to say his farewells but a hard decision needed to be made first. He explained how he came to know Scrappy. The little girl was horrified at the story and began to cry.
‘The thing is I’ll eventually have to go home to England which means Scrappy will have to be left with a vet. I don’t suppose you could adopt him could you?’ he asked the three girls who then proceeded to harass their parents with promises of good behaviour from now on.
The decision made he quickly said goodbye. The family would keep in touch via e-mail to let him know how Scrappy was doing.
Alex didn’t say a word as they drove away. She just kept handing him tissues. He was really going to miss that dog she thought to herself.
John continued to admire the scenery but the greenery had gone replaced by scorched and barren fields. The summer heat wave was taking its toll.
He slowed the motorhome then stopped making Alex come alert from her nap ‘is that fog?’ he asked.
Alex rubbed her tired eyes and yawned ‘no I think it’s more like a heat haze. The hot air is literally causing the sea to evaporate. This kind of thing only lasts for a few hours until a breeze gets up to disperse it’
‘According to the map the road levels off then goes under the motorway. Do you know this area at all?’
‘Yes’ she said stretching ‘it goes east to Almeria and west towards Malaga. Unless you want to chance the motorway we need to take the coast road. There are some nice places to stop. It’s only a few kilometres long then it re-joins the motorway’
John agreed it was a good idea to take the coast road. He was beginning to realise he wasn’t in a hurry to get rid of his new travelling companion.
The mist was swirling around them one minute unable to see a yard in front then basking in clear sunshine.
It was all quite eerie and fun until they reached the motorway intersection.
The blue flashing lights of the police cars reflected off the mist as they tried vainly to make their way down the slip road past the traffic jam. Both sides of the road were at a standstill; with multiple accidents blocking any hope of the trapped vehicles going anywhere soon. Many had gone down the slip road only to find the road blocked with traffic. All in all it was chaos.
‘It looks like we are going to spend the night under a motorway bridge, not very romantic?’
‘Romantic!’ she said looking coyly at him ‘maybe I did the right thing storing my rucksack in the bedroom after all?’
John was past the blushing stage. She wasn’t going to have all the fun ‘do you like it nice and soft or are you the rough and ready type?’ he asked in a husky voice.
‘What!’ she asked her eyes almost popping out.
‘The bed’ he said innocently ‘would you like the double bed or the put-you-up under the seating?’
She was just about to respond but pointed out in front ‘is that man trying to attract our attention?’
Vehicles were parked haphazardly under the motorway having given up any attempt of reaching their destination at least for a while. Two people carriers, their roofs loaded with personal belongings were parked together with most of the doors open to allow any breeze to cool the interior.
Alex recognised the people immediately ‘they’re French Moroccans probably on their way to Ceuta or Tarifa to catch the ferry to Morocco. That man looks very agitated’ she said opening the door and getting out.
John was just about to tell her to be careful then stopped himself. Working for Help the Children in Africa meant she was more the qualified to look after herself.
After five minutes of conversation mostly by the agitated man she returned ‘John can you park the motorhome as near as possible to those two cars. I know we may be blocking the road a bit but it can’t be helped’
‘They’re French Moroccans like I said. The man only speaks French. His wife is in labour. They’ve contacted the authorities but no help is available for some time due to the traffic situation. This mist has caused multiple pile ups’
‘She’s looks in a bad way. I think we should get her into the motorhome so you can examine her better’ he said to Alex after joining her and examining the woman.
Alex looked at him ‘I think now is a good time to explain who you are. From that statement I assume you also have a medical background?’
He nodded ‘I’m in the military but as a Medevac Pilot. I’m not qualified as a doctor though’
‘Well there’s a first time for everything. We need something to carry the woman, no way can she walk’
After a bit of head scratching a large blanket was produced. With two men either side the pregnant woman was hoisted gently then carried into the motorhome.
Alex had explained they were both medics but after a few concerned glances she agreed John would not be there when the baby was born. The woman’s sister would be on hand to help if required. John made sure Alex had all she needed in the way of medical supplies then exited the motorhome to wait it out with the family.
It was a tense few hours but one piece of good news, the traffic was now moving again.
It would be another two hours before the babies cry jolted everyone from their slumber.
The father who had circled the motorhome a hundred times stopped and waited for permission to enter.
Alex opened the door and placed a small bundle in his arms ‘your wife and son are fine sir’ she said in French.
Alex walked away from the motorhome to get some fresh air then staggered slightly grabbing the concrete wall so as not to fall down. John rushed forward and supported her ‘you look exhausted Alex. Sit down and I’ll get some water’ he told her.
After a long drink she recovered ‘that was touch and go for a minute there John. The birth was a lot more complicated than I thought. By the way now might be a good time for a confession. Technically I’m not a doctor yet as I still need to take my finals in London’
‘I think we can leave that confession for another time?’
TO BE CONTINUED