This is an extract from the first chapter of a new book by David A. Wright. The main character of the book, Peter, the pilot, the Special Messenger, is given an assignment which he has to fulfil “at all costs”. The story narrates of Peter`s adventures.
Peter awoke before a warm stove, surrounded by strange, but smiling, faces in a primitive hut lit by guttering, smoky, smelly fish-oil lamps. His immediate thought was for his letter, but his coat was rolled up beneath him and he could feel the letter, or at least, a letter, safely in his pocket. He glanced at his watch, given him by his father before he died, which was still on his wrist (these people were not robbers then) and saw that it was already the 24th almost 10 am – his watch was one of those with the date in a small window and another window, showing either a sun or moon, indicating whether the time was am or pm. As for the date, Peter’s heart sank: the Director had been most explicit and emphatic, ‘delivery on or before the 24th’ and there were now just fourteen hours to go before his allotted time elapsed. So that was it then. Peter had failed. The very word tore into his heart and he began to sob, great heaving sobs of utter misery. He was a failure. He had proved himself unworthy of the title of ‘Special Messenger’. He had bragged about his position to Anna and now, if he survived, he would be stripped ignominiously of his rank and most likely drummed out of the Corps of Messengers — failure was unheard of! Anna would despise him; his mother would disown him — better he died right here and now.
But Peter did not die there and then, instead he slept soundly as young people do and woke a couple of hours later to find the world a more inviting place. For a start he was hungry and, anticipating his need, his new hosts had prepared him a meal. Much of it was raw and fishy, but he was ravenous and he ate things neither knowing nor caring what they were. After that, he slept deeply again.
When he awoke the second time, he began to look more sensibly into his surroundings and prospects. So, he would no longer be a Messenger, but he had changed occupations once already and he could do so again. His mother wouldn’t care what job he worked at and neither would Anna if she was the girl that he hoped she was. He would start anew.
But first things first. Where was he and who were these people.
As is so often the case in far flung regions of the world, there was a young man there who spoke a kind of English. He explained that the people were Lapps. They had been coming towards him, wondering about the identity of this stranger who was approaching their camp on skis, when suddenly he disappeared from sight. They found him at the bottom of a small crevasse, pulled his unconscious body from the snow and took him back to their village.
Such hospitality was quite usual in those parts. They seldom got visitors and a rarity such as Peter occasioned much interest and speculation. As for the help that they had rendered him, well, any day it might be their turn to require assistance – so it was a sort of mutual assurance scheme!
This time, Peter’s watch showed it to be almost midnight on the 24th so there was absolutely no chance of his delivering the message that day.
“I wonder what it was that was so important” he thought. Since he was about to be expelled from the Corps of Messengers, he might as well break another of their strictest rules. He took the letter pouch out of his pocket, removed the envelope and read the simple address:
Mr. S. Claus,
The North Pole.
Peter flung caution to the winds and broke open the sealed envelope.
As the significance of the address sank in for the first time, it began to dawn on Peter that perhaps the stern, forbidding Director had a softer side after all. Perhaps this was a late plea from some child, maybe an orphan, (Peter’s imagination was working overtime) who had some heart-rending story, on whom the Director had taken pity and gone to all this trouble to arrange for the special delivery of the child’s request.
Peter’s remorse deepened.
He had failed the Director; he had failed all those who trusted him; and he had failed himself. The resources of the Corps of Messengers had been devoted to fulfilling this simple request and he, Peter, had ruined the whole generous gesture and spoiled some poor child’s Christmas.
With tears in his eyes, Peter took out the letter, expecting to see a few lines in childish scrawl asking for some toy or other. So he was utterly dumb struck when he removed instead an official typed letter, as follows:
Ministry of Transport
Mr S. Claus (aka Father Christmas)
The North Pole.
The Movement of Aerial Vehicles (not having wings or wheels) (not being jet or internal combustion engine powered) Regulations 2008
It has recently come to our notice that you are the owner, possessor or driver of a vehicle which falls within the scope of the above Regulations and that you do not appear from our records to have a current licence for the use of the said vehicle.
Unless and until you are able to satisfy the Minister and/or his lawfully appointed deputy or agent that you are entitled to own, possess or drive such a vehicle, you are forbidden from using and/or flying the said vehicle anywhere within the airspace covered by these Regulations and/or any other airspace with whom the Ministry maintains a mutually co-operative agreement.
This Notice shall come into effect as from midnight on 24th December 2008.
Just at that moment, Peter heard the sound of sleigh bells and, looking up into the sky, saw a jovial figure with a long white beard and dressed in a red coat and trousers riding in a sleigh pulled by six prancing reindeer racing across the night sky.
“What a good job that I didn’t deliver that letter” he thought, tearing the letter into small pieces and throwing them into the fire. “All the children will get their presents after all!”
And they did!
The Lapps kindly took Peter back to Narvik where Peter had a quick check at the town hospital to make sure that there was nothing seriously wrong with him. Bjorn had miraculously ‘found’ sufficient fuel to fill the tanks, both main and reserve, just in case. Peter called to see Anna, whose parents thought that he was a delightful young man and waved happily as Peter flew Anna back to Oslo. Once there, Peter decided that he would send a letter of resignation to the Corps of Messengers and stay with Anna in Oslo. He also kept the plane, which Bjorn reported as being lost to cover up the missing petrol.