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Here’s another chance for a sneak preview of my science fiction adventure novel. This is Chapter 1, your feedback would be appreciated.

The Greatest Gift

He had never met his grandfather. In fact no one in the family ever talked about him until his paternal grandmother, on her deathbed, told Richard the sad details of the events that had occurred in his grandfather’s life some twenty-three years before.

With enormous pride, his grandmother quietly told that her husband Stuart had been quite an athlete when he was young, a middle distance runner. Her eyes glistened with tears as she spoke affectionately about her husband. Richard listened intently to this, all the while wondering why no one in his family had ever before discussed this with him. Very soon however, he was to learn of his family’s dark secret.

“Your grandfather was an extremely handsome man,” his grandmother whispered, smiling as she talked, “full of enthusiasm for life, which is why what happened to him, was so terribly tragic’ but he made us all promise never to talk about him from the day he left us. It was his choice, not mine,” she continued.
“I don’t understand,” Richard said, thinking that, ‘the day he left us’ was his grandmother’s way of saying, the day he had died.
“Of course, I did see him again you know” said the old woman, completely ignoring Richard’s question. “Yes, I did, several times in fact.”

Richard was confused by this but permitted her to carry on without his interruption. She spoke more of her husband saying that he had graduated from Cambridge with a first in Mathematics. Later, he had worked at Oxford University where he lectured in Cosmology achieving much acclaim at the time as an assistant to a well-known and accomplished Cosmologist. However, unbeknown to nearly everyone except his wife, many of the papers published by his mentor were in fact Stuart’s own work. This career however was relatively short lived as Stuart decided after a few years that lecturing was not for him after all. He decided this because funding for research in his chosen field was so scarce that he felt he could not do the subject justice and so he made the decision to leave. The old lady continued, telling Richard how Stuart’s ill health went undiagnosed by a number of specialists and doctors. Richard also learnt that following the brief spell of ill health, Stuart had started a business in pharmaceuticals, in 1970.

On hearing this, Richard realised that this was now his dad’s and uncle John’s business. Until then, he had never known or thought to ask how or when the business began. Richard leant across, touched his grandmother’s hand and quietly asked her, “What was wrong with grandfather?”
“No one could tell.”
“What were the symptoms then?” he persisted.
The old woman took a deep breath and explained, a tear rolling down one of the creases in her old wrinkled face just like the first rains in a dry riverbed of the Kalahari. “He sometimes had difficulty breathing and occasionally had to sit down to recover,” she said slowly. “They told him he was overdoing the fitness training.”
“What was it that actually killed him?” Richard asked rather untactfully.
“My dear, dear boy,” she said smiling, looking at him for the first time, “he’s not dead, he’s merely sleeping.” Her voice raising a note at the end of the sentence. At this Richard pulled back slightly and raised an eyebrow. He couldn’t make up his mind whether she was telling the truth or she was delusional. As if for confirmation, he glanced across the bed at his mother, who had been silent until then. She had a look of disbelief on her face, however it was not disbelief of what the old lady had said, but that she had said it at all.
“Is this true Mother?” he asked.
“Yes dear, yes it is,” she replied hesitantly, adding rather sheepishly, “but I think you should let your Grandmother rest now dear.”
Turning to the old lady, Richard’s mother said, “You rest now Irene. James and John will be here to see you by the time you wake up.”
“Why can’t I stay?” asked the young man, now eager to hear more and find out what had happened to his grandfather, the man he had never met and who was never discussed other than in guarded responses to his juvenile questions when he was younger. He now realised these questions had been parried by his parents and other family members ‘in the know’. He was not about to give up now, but before he could ask any more, his grandmother slipped into sleep. “Let’s go Richard,” whispered his mother placing her hand lightly on his back and guiding him out of the room.

They left the private side ward to take a break from their vigil. James and his brother John were away on business in Switzerland when Pen took the call from the consultant at the private clinic advising that it was likely to be a matter of hours, not days, as they had previously been told, before their mother passed away. Following the call, Richard and Pen had rushed straight to the clinic calling James en-route. James and John had booked flights immediately and were now expected to arrive at the hospital in about half an hour.

Richard and his mother had a coffee in the Visitors’ lounge before returning to the side ward where they sat with his sleeping grandmother until his father and uncle arrived. Richard’s mother desperately wanted to let her husband know what his mother had told Richard, but the opportunity did not arise as when the two men arrived they immediately walked into the side ward.

They all sat round the bed with the old lady’s sons holding a hand each, waiting for her to wake which she did, almost on cue and looked at James who instantly said, “Hello Mum, I’m here, so is John.”
“I know,” she replied weakly “you all are; your father is too”. Richard’s father looked at his wife who gave a troubled smile that told him everything. He looked at Richard who nodded and raised his mouth into a smile that didn’t reach his eyes and said, “She told me about my Grandfather. Dad, why didn’t you?”
“Not now son, not now,” he replied as he looked back towards his mother. The old lady was rambling, talking about old friends and past events as though they were happening for her at the present moment. Suddenly she strained to raise her head and looked at the back wall of the room saying, “Oh Stuart, it’s so good to see you. My, how handsome you look. It’s as though you never left.” They all looked round to see who was there, but no-one was and as they looked back the old lady drew her final breath and passed away. One of the attending doctors walked over to her bedside and checked her pulse. Finding that there wasn’t one, he bowed his head and pronounced her dead at 4:30 p.m.

After a few moments observing the old lady, Richard’s father leant over and closed her eyelids. They all sat there in silence looking at her again at peace at last after her long, and sometimes painful, battle with cancer.

Richard, whilst extremely upset at her passing, was also thinking that it was now his mother and father’s responsibility to fill in the rest of the details relating to what his grandmother had said about his grandfather, the man he never knew. One thing was for certain, he was determined to seek his grandfather out, whether or not his family approved.

The Greatest Gift, available from my website http://www.balneaves.co.uk