Ayden blinked languidly in the pitch-blackness. His breathing began to feel tight. The feeling of compression slowly paralyzed his entire system. The inside of his mind felt dark and utterly soundless. He could hear his own heartbeat. He tried to sit up, and hit his head, slowly realizing he was in a coffin. Soil slipped through the slits, assailing his eyes, nose, mouth, and body. He snorted, blowing out the dirt from his nose, and blinked repetitively to shake off the remainder. He felt his duffel bag between his legs. Air was precious right now. He could only hope help would arrive in time.
Like every other member of the League of Invisible Knights, Ayden had been trained to withstand all kinds of torture. The founders scouted him through the files of military, police, and intelligence organizations. Potential candidates were selected based on certain criteria. Above all, they must have heart. Anyone who failed the training program would have to repeat it. Traitors were dealt with severely.
Ayden agreed to participate in the League’s program because he felt betrayed by the country he loves. His resume impressed the secret echelons of Anonymous. The former Special Air Services (SAS) commando had single-handedly rescued a group of Pashtun women and children in southern Afghanistan from a human trafficking gang. The display of chivalry didn’t impress his superiors, especially since the culprits included Afghan officers. Lieutenant Ayden Tanner should have accepted the “culture” of the environment. Being a member of the League has some perks: a rent-free, three-bedroom apartment in Hampstead Village. Except for junk mail, his letterbox was always empty. The neighborhood stores and cafes knew him as John the Artist since he was always seen at the art shop buying supplies. He hung his artworks all over his apartment walls. But no one had ever seen it. He never brought guests home. He was also John the Reader at a nearby bookstore. He read fast, all kinds of genres, fiction and nonfiction.
He couldn’t recall how he ended up on the secret island. All he could remember was being kicked out of a bar one night in London after staring a drunken brawl. He found himself the next morning having coffee in the kitchen of a small cottage on the outskirts with a man who simply introduced himself as Mr. Somebody. He spent the next few days in the cottage. Then one day he woke up on a beach with a man in a Guy Fawkes mask staring down at him. No doubt, Mr. Somebody had drugged him. He learned the reason later. The island’s location must remain a secret. From the landscape, vegetation, and animals on it, he gathered he was still somewhere in the UK.
He spent the first three months in a wooden shack, isolated, disconnected from human contact. Rabbits, unusual looking butterflies and foxes kept him company. He was given basic amenities and supplies to survive alone. He soon discovered the value of isolation. It helped cleanse his thoughts and removed impurities inside the soul.
At the end of the isolation period, Ayden was taken to meet other candidates and the training began. Under the tutelage of no-nonsense instructors he learned martial arts, espionage strategies, holistic security strategy, language proficiency and shibboleth, espionage parlance and the art of disguise. Those were morning lessons. Afternoon lessons were more intensive. Lights out by ten.
Upon graduation, Ayden was given a special honor—death. An obituary in the newspaper reported his demise—a car accident during a road trip to Devon, it seems. His body was buried in an Anglican cemetery. Even though he grew up to become a non-believer, the charade was necessary. It was easily fabricated since both his parents were dead. No siblings or other relatives made it easier. The only son of an Anglican pastor and a housewife mother, their memory continued to linger in his mind. He credited them for teaching him values even though he didn’t agree with his father’s beliefs.
Date Published: 15, May 2017
The Pope is missing. Three specialists – a British, a French and an American – are dispatched by a covert division of Anonymous to find him.
About the Author
Khaled is a former journalist with local and international exposure. His articles have been published and syndicated to newspapers worldwide, and his short stories have appeared in literary journals and magazines. The author is a member of the UK Crime Writers Association and the International Thriller Writers. He lives in Singapore.