Do you value your mother’s health above peace in the Middle East? How about your career over global warming? If a company runs the best graduate scheme in the world, then it can afford to be probing with its interview questions. When Joe Massey is offered a role aboard Schelldhardt’s luxurious headquarters at sea, he discovers that the company mission is beyond anything he had ever imagined. Strange dreams disturb his sleep, and it soon becomes clear that nothing is quite as it seems. Is he really the right man for the job? And if not, then why is he there at all?
Phobia ‘Focus,’ said the voice in the darkness. ‘You are sitting on a beach, facing the sea…’ As the blackness transformed around him, Joe could feel the wind whipping across the sand. Rays of sunshine filtered through the clouds, casting gangly shadows along the length of the shingle-covered beach. It was a place he somehow knew, but he couldn’t recall being there before. ‘I said, do you want a beer?’ asked the bemused young man sitting next to him. He was wearing a wetsuit, with an expensive-looking camera dangling from his neck. There was a can of lager in his hand that he waved like a friendly glove puppet. ‘Yes, sorry,’ laughed Joe. ‘I was miles away.’ Dixon shook his head, exasperated, and passed him the can. Joe pulled back the ring, ducking to meet the frothing beer. ‘I’m going to get some close-up shots,’ Dixon said, clambering to his feet. He picked up a pair of fins from the sand, and limped through a patch of stones that separated them from the water. Joe was taken aback when he looked up; there were seals and sea lions all the way along the shore, some playing in the breaking waves, some basking at the edge of the water. They were a variety of sizes and colours: a subtle spectrum of browns, greys and black. Their sleek bodies, powdered by sand, slipped effortlessly in and out of the waves — their grace in the water as pronounced as their clumsy blundering along the sand. As beautiful as the sight was, there was something that instantly disturbed Joe about it. His arms were covered in goose-pimples, though it wasn’t the chill of the breeze that was the cause: he knew this place, and he knew that he didn’t want to be here. It was an irrational feeling. There was no one else on the beach. Dixon was crouched near the water’s edge, his camera held in front of him in an exaggerated artistic pose. Everything was perfectly normal. ‘The peninsula Valdés is a unique nature reserve,’ said an unseen voice. Joe froze when he heard the words in the air — the familiar American accent, triggering fear deep in his subconscious. ‘This sparse landscape is situated in the Argentinian province of Chubut on the Atlantic coast,’ the man continued. Joe knew his voice, but he associated it with something else; it belonged to this beach, but in a different way that he couldn’t quite recall. Something from his childhood. Something he had forgotten about. Had he imagined the words? There was no one else in sight for miles around them. He hobbled barefooted towards the water, feeling every stone and shell underfoot. The hoarse barking of a sea lion stopped him in his tracks a few feet short of the water’s edge. ‘I think we should go,’ he said to Dixon, who was further advanced, still taking photographs. ‘Are you crazy? I’ve been waiting all day for this light. It’s perfect now,’ Dixon replied, not stopping to turn around. He continued photographing in his affected pose. Joe stood by the water’s edge, hugging himself. It was incredible how much colder it was just these few feet nearer the sea. He wanted them both to leave. Something was wrong. ‘I’ve got a bad feeling.’ ‘About what?’ Dixon laughed, still crouched. ‘I don’t know. Déjà vu. Something isn’t right.’
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