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THE GIRL FROM KOSOVO. From author Graham Whittaker, The Girl From Kosovo is a compelling novel of love and intrigue, where the ordinary becomes extraordinary. This new book is inspired by real events, such as the Kosovo War in the late 1990s; real places such as the little East Yorkshire town of Withernsea, England, and…
From author Graham Whittaker, The Girl From Kosovo is a compelling novel of love and intrigue, where the ordinary becomes extraordinary. This new book is inspired by real events, such as the Kosovo War in the late 1990s; real places such as the little East Yorkshire town of Withernsea, England, and its famous Lighthouse; and real people, such as the Lunns family who owned and operated The Holderness Gazette, formerly Withernsea Gazette. Whittaker takes all these elements and masterfully weaves them together into a thrilling fiction about damaged souls touching and healing each other.
When Nikita Tarasov is buried alive and critically wounded during the war in Kosovo, a voice, named Andy, tells her amazing stories about a little boy, and a lighthouse, keeping her calm. Shortly after being rescued by a psychopathic Serbian Nationalist, Max Lomax, Nikita becomes the darling of the world’s press. Now, trapped in a world of drugs, human trafficking and prostitution, Nikita promises to escape her “Guardian” and find the mysterious Andy.
Nikita has been told that Andy never existed, but his stories, the image of a Lighthouse, and a lonely little boy, haunt Nikita. Determined to prove Andy is real, Nikita discovers a town where “Andy” may have lived. One boy believes her and as the quest for the real Andy touches lives, everything changes. The rough-edged Yorkshire boy Robbie falls in love with the damaged little girl. Throughout, the Lighthouse that once shed its gentle beam across the town, and into a frightened little boy’s bedroom, guides Nikita to her destiny.
Powerfully poignant and exceptionally evocative, The Girl From Kosovo is a tale that tackles big themes with the most engaging narrative. This is a story readers will remember long after its final pages have been turned.
Graham Whittaker was born in East Yorkshire and worked at various occupations. Galley boy on North Sea trawlers. Seven years as a Radio Operator in the Royal Navy. At the age of 18, he was nominated as ‘one of the five most promising poets in Britain.’ He immediately gave up writing poetry. Since then he has written hundreds of short stories under female pseudonyms for most major women’s magazines, and has ghost written a number of books. He continues to earn his income as a Writer on Demand, and teaches English as a Second Language. He travels extensively in the Asia/Oceania region and has two ‘adopted’ Chinese daughters. His time is taken up with travel within China and Vietnam. He lives with his partner and a German Shepherd called Zeus, in Far North Queensland, Australia.
The Girl From Kosovo * by Graham Whittaker
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December 25th 1960 East Yorkshire.
Andy pushed hard on the pedals, head down and bottom up, straining against the incline.
Snow powdered hair and eyebrows, and ears and nose frost-reddened.
Into the still air, thickly stacked with snow clouds, he chanted to the rhythm of his exertions. “Up the hill, up the hill, I know I can, I know I will.”Soon he would be home. Another mile or two. On either side of the road, yard by grueling yard, the snow laden hedges, and beyond them, an expanse of blinding white pasture and woodland drifted by inexorably. He lifted his head, settling his gaze on the distant corner where he knew the long downhill run began. Where at last he could sit and cruise all the way to the last corner, past the gleaming white spike of lighthouse that lit up his bedroom with a comforting sweep of yellow light every three seconds, and kept the darkness away. His cosy little bedroom that faced out onto the street, that mum had papered with nursery rhyme wallpaper. Simple Simon, Little Bo peep, Humpty Dumpty. And each time the slow sweep of the light that had (forever it seemed,) comforted sailors and towns folk alike, lit up, it animated the wallpaper folk so that for a brief second they appeared to move as if alive.
Lost in a new world of Speckled Thrushes, red-breasted Robins, and the glossy black-green of holly clustered with bright red berries, his country boys eye detected without conscious thought the colors of the winter scape. Across the fields, if you looked quite carefully, a winter Hare not-quite-white. A vixen, her thin red form motionless against the backdrop of the distant woods, so that she almost blended into the brownness of Oak, and Ash, and Sycamore. Fox and Hare each motionless for its own reasons.
The country road, with its curves and undulations and deep drifts on either side unfurled in front of Andy’s wheels. Inside Gran’s mittens Andy’s hands glowed with warmth, and his feet encased in double-thick woolen socks glowed, and his face glowed, and the hot breath from his mouth hit the air and turned to smoke.
In a world of perfect wonder and solitude Andy flew. But by the time he realized that he had traveled too far, he had traveled far too far, and the warm glow had fled before he became aware of the dull aching cold.
The sparkling morning had hurried away, danced away before him, and in some wondrous reverie he had let the dark-cold surround him. It curled around his shoulders, pressing down, and though it was as silent as silent could be, it rumbled.
The fizzy glow in his hands and feet too had fled, and the dark-cold squeezed itself through the thick wool, deep into his bones. “You won’t have me Mr. Dark Cold. I’ll fight.”
Andy dismounted, his legs shaky, and stomped his feet hard. He was not afraid of the dark cold, nor even of the big dark. Outside, they can’t get you. Even as he stood gazing glumly at the simple black on white pointer that told him that Withernsea was now six miles behind him, a snow laden wind hustled at his back. The ill wind… the ill wind that blows nobody any good!
The settled snow, no longer soft powder, crunched under his feet, and he stood, a tiny figure clutching his beloved adult sized bicycle, which, even with the seat at its lowest, had his toes pointed to their limit on the down stroke to stay in contact with the pedals.”Home again home again jig a jig jig” He said to himself, refusing to accept the reality of the distance he had blithely travelled.
He glanced again at the stern pointer, and blinked in the failing light. For the briefest of moments Andy was sure it had changed. “Go Home! Go Home …. NOW!”
But when he blinked again, it simply indicated Withernsea 6 Miles.
In the deserted Patrington village street all four little shops, and the pub were firmly closed, and darkness on this Christmas day would fall like lead, though it was only just late afternoon.
Patrington was really no more than a couple of bus stops on the winding road to Hull. Twenty miles if you went this way….seventeen if you went the other way, through Withernsea, past the lighthouse up Hull road . At Big Hill the road dropped steeply. You could get to the top of Big Hill, and pedal furiously downhill, bending low over the handlebars. If you got it right, the bicycle would fly so fast that you simply could not pedal any faster. Then, just before the bottom, a tight and frightening corner angling to the left, and you would lean hard like a motorbike racer, barely staying to the left side of the road before you had to throw right into the next corner and on the to the steep incline on the other side.
With luck you could get all the way up the other side without having to dismount and walk. The corner at Big Hill was where his grandmother (only just this year) and grandfather (the year before) were buried. On the high side of Big Hill in the cemetery there. It always mystified Andy how you could go out of the town in one direction, and get to Hull, and in a completely different direction, through different villages and farms, and still arrive at the big city bus station. Hull was where his beloved auntie and uncle lived. Auntie who was his mums sister, and uncle who was probably the kindest man in the whole world. While he stamped his feet against the cold, Andy wondered why he had bothered to come this way.
This way the road was all undulations, where no sooner had you got some speed up on the downgrade than you were puffing and panting up again. It was the same whichever way you traveled on this road. No advantage going back…even with the wind at your back, which it would not be this afternoon.
And now thin, sleety snow was coming in on a crow-black clouds. Driven on the wind, the sleet slashed around his face like one of those fold- out razors they stropped on leather at the barber shop. Cold and steely, but somehow clean too in a nasty kind of way.
Patrington was the summer road. In the winter it was the lonely road…the leaving road. The road you took when you were never coming back again. “Go home… now. The Ill wind…”
He wished he had just taken an easy ride up to Big Hill instead…to visit gran and granddad, and uncle Frank who had only had one eye and looked like a big pirate with his black eye-patch.
Andy had never really known Uncle Frank, but what he did know, was that he knew he had liked him. Uncle Frank had not been like a man. He had been like…like courage. Much more than a man., more of a feeling, secure and solid, and he made his sisters laugh, pretending to take out his glass eye. Andy laughed too when mum screwed up her face and scolded “Frank!” And Frank would laugh too, and slip her half a crown to buy fish and chips wrapped in yesterdays newspaper, drowning in vinegar and lots of salt
Inside himself, Andy could feel his blood slowing. He had entered into a ‘dark cold’ reverie that he knew he should snap out of… and soon. It was how the dark cold got you. It slowed you down until you got all clogged up and frozen inside. “You won’t get me Mr. Dark Cold” He suddenly snapped into the freezing maw of the wind. “I’m small, and I’m thin, and I can’t fight for toffee. But I can run and I can jump and I can endure”.
Endure. The word he had found in a hymn at school when they had sung it in assembly. Endure was like courage too.. only more.
He tried to remember the hymn but couldn’t. Instead he thought of his second best hymn. Then he threw his black and yellow striped school scarf around his neck and tucked it in tight, and swung into the saddle. He mounted with a single leap over. First, his left foot on the pedal, and then his right leg swung high. The movement was casual and fluid. It was ‘giving the finger’ to the cold dark and the ill wind. Pushing off he started to sing his second favorite hymn. “He who would valiant be, ‘gainst all disaster. Let him in constancy follow the master. There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent, his first avowed intent TO BE A PILGRIM!”
He had little concept of God. No particular belief in Him. Only the words of the hymn meant anything at all to Andy.
He wasn’t sure exactly what a pilgrim was, or what he did….but that’s what he wanted to be. Valiant against disaster. Constant and true. Someone who could endure. He would be a pilgrim.”I think I can. I think I can”
Turning the corner out of Patrington, he spied the light, and set his sights firmly on it. From this distance there was no ‘beam’ just a wide blink of light every three seconds. One, two three, blink.
Miraculously the wind fell away as he angled almost exhausted into the final corner. Maybe it knew he was almost in. In his mind now the thoughts had ceased to tumble, and the brave song had fallen away to be replaced by the thunk, click, whirr sounds of the bike. The thunk where the bent pedal struck against the chain guard. The result of a ‘dirt track’ accident, the click of the chain, not quite tight enough, and the whirr of the dynamo, it’s milled wheel turning against the larger cog of his rear tyre, spreading a strong beam from his sturdy little headlight.
Andy thought of the story his mum told about the little train, and fixed the sounds to a rhythm and added the words of the little train. “I think I can…I think I can… I think I can.” He murmured. And he knew he could. He knew he would. He could be like uncle Frank. Valiant. A pilgrim. And one day he would make his sister laugh, and slip her half a crown to buy fish and chips wrapped in yesterdays newspaper, drowning in vinegar and lots and lots of salt.
KOSOVO March 24th 1999
Nothing stirred now. The world was black. Cold and black. First the dull thump had happened, and then everything just fell inwards. She heard screams. Terrified cries that cut off abruptly, then things falling, and crashing around. And then only ominous creaks, the rasp of dust and dirt in her throat, and the crushing weight across her chest and legs filled her world, black as the black of a waking nightmare, when she dreamt that she had instantly crossed the void between consciousness and sleep on those moments when the shelling stopped, and silence fell more heavily than all the bombs.
The recurring nightmare of silence and blackness so total that she wanted to scream into the void and shatter it with the noise from her own constricted throat. When she knew that if only she could scream the terror would break and the world would start up again. How she tried: Nikita tried so hard, and then her little throat would emit a thin gurgle-gargle, and she would try again to hear that sound. And again, until suddenly the scream came, full and piercing, and she would wake, knowing this time she was awake. And the deep, deep blackness and death-silence would be gone, and mama would be there, always, there, in the light of a twig-thin birthday candle.
Now even the creaking of tortured timber and cement stopped, and the silence was as thick as the darkness. Just like in the waking nightmares, Nikita could not move, and now the terror began to well up inside her. Surely this was just another dream? If only she could scream., scream! ,scream! Scream!
“Mmm! Mmmm!’ In her head she heard it. But ….. nothing. “Mmmv. Mmmmmmm! Mmma Mmmmaaamma!” Her shriek hit the air ………….. and was sucked into the tight void. With sudden despair she realized that her blessed scream, her personal talisman that was supposed to blast her into wakefulness had failed. That this was wakefulness, and mama, like papa ….. and everyone, was gone.
At first Nikita thought the voice was only in her head. So close, so rich and warm. It was comforting. Strong.
“Be calm.” It said, and for moments she lay, listening, unable to believe. But she lay still, and tried to do what the voice said. To be calm. And then it came again, so close that it seemed to echo all around her with its rich warmth.
“What is your name?” The man asked, and she thought it was someone from heaven, Christ, or St Peter, or an angel, gently asking her lost soul the password to heaven.
“Nikita” She whispered hopefully, afraid that the voice truly was inside her own head. “Are you there?”
The voice answered. “I’m here. Be calm Nikita.”
“Who…who are you?” Nikita was almost afraid to ask the question, in case…in case..she didn’t know what in case of, but, in case anyway.
“I’m Andy’ The voice said. “What a pickle this is”.
“Pickle?” Nikita asked. Her English was fluent, but it was English taught at school, and by mama, and there were things in the language that a little girl could not yet grasp.
Andy chuckled, as if he might be sitting back in a brown leather armchair puffing on a friendly pipe, instead of in this awful tomb. “A pickle? Well, it’s a bit of a fix. A rare old mess. That’s what a pickle is.”
“I’m frightened of this pickle.” Nikita said softly.
“Well”, Andy said, after a long pause in which the silence and darkness folded in again, “I don’t suppose it would be right or fair to tell you not to be frightened. But there is a way Nikita. Will you talk to me? Keep talking to me Nikita. You must not let Mr, Sleepy take you. Promise? We’ll talk, and we’ll talk. Will you call me Andy? Keep talking to me? If we talk, we can both keep Mr Sleepy out of the dark. I’m in a pickle too Nikita, but I promise, I promise they will come soon.”
In the dark, a tentacle of yellow light swept away the creeping monsters. The monsters were under the bed he knew. And in the wardrobe. Andy wanted to pee. He had held it for so long that the fear of the monsters diminished in equal proportion to the fear of a humiliatingly sodden bed. Worse than the Landing Monster he feared his father, home on leave to torment mum and make her polish his buttons with Duraglit, and scrape his fingers across every spotless surface declaring that the house was “filthy”.
He counted the seconds between each sweep, muttering to himself “One …. two …. three” and the next friendly tentacle lit up the tiny room for a mere second. “One …. two …. three.” If he could time it exactly right and make the lunge, the monsters would be trapped under the bed, and in the wardrobe. Only the Landing Monster would remain. The worst of all the monsters.
He closed his eyes, memorizing the layout of the dark landing beyond his bedroom door. The top floor landing had a light switch exactly seven steps beyond the door. Andy had counted them a hundred times in his night-flights to the toilet. He would have to take three steps, and then shift right to avoid the packing cases and tea chests his mother had brought home for the move. They were being posted to Malta.
Two long steps right would bring him to the light switch set next to the door jamb beside his big brother’s room, now empty since John had run away to join the Navy a couple of years ago. John was seventeen now and had never come home again. John was eight years older and Andy missed him a lot. John slew monsters and stood up for him when dad was on leave.
The switch was exactly at the height of his forehead. You had to be exact, if you missed the switch you would be a goner. Andy took mind photographs, and waited for the next friendly beam. “What if the monster’s just outside the door?” He thought. Just a split seconds hesitation and the lighthouse beam flew by once more.
He drew in a breath,waited for the next and began to count “One…two…” and bounded out of bed reaching unerringly for the door handle with his left, the right hand already outstretched to slam down the light switch. He pulled the door open catching a split second picture of the landing as the soft beam spread it’s way through the skylight. Then he was into the darkness. Counting the steps. “One…two’… Stepping right as the friendly old beam once again forced the monsters, cringing into the shadows. There was the light switch. “ON!” he breathed. For no more than an instant the bare bulb hanging on a cord from the ceiling, lit up, and then died.
Andy made a funny little sound of terror as the darkness enveloped him again. No time to stop. Monsters were quick, and could grab you in their furious maw in less than a blink. There were four steps down onto the landing. “Down four:” Andy whispered. “Two steps and right!” All the time blinking mind-pictures to himself, holding the thought photos before his eyes. He leapt forward, every movement precise. He needed to be precise. Any fumble would send him into the monsters jaws with a crack and a crunch. He acted at full pelt, his young mind working against the fear….wanting to survive this dash to the toilet. The toilet door was on the right, two steps onto the lower landing. He found the switch with not a single fumble. Sometimes, during daylight hours Andy would practice and practice until he had each move absolutely perfect.
He would close his eyes and find his way all around the house, upstairs and downstairs. Into the pantry, kitchen, even outside and down the yard to the outside toilet. In a house full of monsters it paid to know your way around with eyes closed.
Suddenly the tiny cubicle was a blaze of light. He pulled the door shut and turned sideways so that his back was not facing the door. You could never be too careful. He splashed his pajamas in the hurry to relieve himself, but only a little. He aimed the stream not at the water but at the side of the vitreous enamel bowl, careful not to make a tinkle in the water that might alert any sleeping monster, particularly not the Landing Monster who might at this very moment be slobbering gleefully outside the toilet door.
Andy steeled himself for the return journey. Robbed of his night vision, getting back to his safe little bed would be fraught with danger. The dark would be darker than dark, and going up the four steps was always more difficult than coming down them. You had to be precise. Not to kick and stumble. If he so much as stumbled even a little, they would be on him with gnashing teeth and razor sharp claws. They liked to rip you open at the belly and eat your warm guts first. And then your soft juicy eyeballs which they could pop between their teeth like grapes. And then they would suck and crunch on your fingers and toes leaving your brains and heart until last to wash down with a cup or two of blood.
With the need to pee dealt with, terror gripped his stomach, and sat in his throat like a dormant scream. He dropped the seat and sat down for a minute, planning the return trip.
“Fear kills” Andy whispered to himself. Vocalizing the thought made it better. The man in him knew that monsters were only figments, but the child was certain of the opposite truth. He knew that these fears were irrational, but to stop believing in monsters was the same as to stop believing in Santa Claus, or the tooth fairy ………. or God. And he knew that to survive in the world he would be living in as a man, you have to have faith. You have to BELIEVE, even if all the evidence is against you, you would have to have faith.
He was only ten, but he knew about faith. Mum said that faith can move mountains, and that would be a neat trick if you practised hard enough, mustered up enough faith to actually move a whole mountain right out of your way. If you could get up that amount of faith there wouldn’t be anything you couldn’t do. You could probably make the world square, or turn it orange or something. For the time being though, the Landing Monster would be practise enough. If fear kills, Andy was sure as sure can be that he would work as hard as hard to become immortal. “Fear kills.” he whispered, counting seconds until the next sweep of the lighthouse beam.