Deepak awoke drenched in sweat. His heart pounded and goosebumps covered both arms. There was a sharp pain in his temples and he was calling for his parents. He stumbled out of bed and nearly bumped into a pine wardrobe. Then he realised he had been dreaming, but the nightmare had roots in reality. Covid-19 held the planet in its grip, like a desperate hyena. Both of Deepak's parents worked as doctors, in a local hospital, and so were battling against it. He had just been dreaming that his father had caught the virus, though it hadn't happened in real life.
Deepak Chopra switched on a light, sat down on the end of his bed and saw himself in a mirror. He should've been sweating from dancing at a prom, but that had been cancelled. So had his A-levels. He and his classmates were to be marked on the basis of their coursework. Would that be enough to get him into university? What would university be like during this pandemic? No one knew. The young man yearned for an arm round his shoulders, but both Mum and Dad were working on a night shift and his older brother had a home of his own.
The bedroom window was open. Deepak heard voices from outside.
"Are you sure about this Frank?" said one voice. "If we do this every night the police 'll be on to us."
"Look Taran, we've got money now," came the reply. "We might as well make use of it."
"Yeah, we coud but a new boat instead of of loosin' money."
"We're not goin' to loose it, are we."
"You did last time."
"Don't you mean we?"
"Oh no Frank, this was your idea and if we get caught I'll say so. If this goes wrong you're in charge, and you're not gettin' any say in it."
Deepak stiffened, then got up and looked out of his window. Despite the white light from a street lamp he couldn't see anyone outside. Who were Frank and Taran? They sounded young but he didn't remember them from school. He listened for sounds of footsteps on the pavement but heard nothing.
Deepak waited until those two had a chance to get well away. Then he got dressed and left the house. An image of Saturn decorated his T-shirt. He smelt salt, for this was a coastal town. He walked past semi detached houses with large windows and weatherboarding, then past bungalows with lawns and flowerbeds. Roses scented cool night air. Two moths fluttered past. Deepak walked down to a pebbly beach, listening to beating waves and the crunch of shingle. He hoped to study astronomy at university so nocturnal outings were nothing new to him. Some of the lockdown restrictions were being eased and he didn't expect to meet many others at this hour. He carried a mask in his jacket pocket, just in case. Stargazing often helped him to relax when under stress, hopefully it would now. It was easier to see the stars away from street lights.
Deepak looked out over the sea. Saturn lay to his left, in Sagittarius, while Jupiter glowed higher up and to the right. Golden starlight from Antares was visible below Jupiter. Other stars peppered the firmament like campfires in the sky. His headache eased off and he unclenched white teeth. The young man lay on his back for some time. Soft breezes cooled him and that felt good.
As he got up to leave, Deepak thought of how he'd been taught, all his life, that if he worked hard and studied well then his dreams would come true. Now he wondered "is that still the case? What if it isn't any more?" He switched a torch on.
His right foot hit cold water and it went in up to his ankle. The feel of it shook him out of gloomy introspection. Annoyed, he tried to get around the brine. Each time he walked forward his feet got wet. He tried to wade through it, but it was too deep and the current felt dangerous. He retreated up the beach. Shingle slipped from under him and he nearly fell. "Stay calm Chopra," he told himself. The swish of waves grew louder. Foam on water resembled Elizabethan lace. No matter how far up he went, salt water blocked his path. Deepak grabbed his phone and he tried to call for help. He couldn't do it. This beach was a reception black spot. Fear gripped the youngster. He cupped both hands around his mouth and called "Help! Help!" There was no response. He ran first in one direction, then in another, but there was no escape from the rising tide. Deepak began to fear that he wouldn't live to see the morning. "No, no," he thought, "I'm too young to die!" He started praying. Then his terror made breathing difficult and it felt as if his jacket was constricting him. He ripped it off but that horrible feeling continued. He pointed his torch out to sea, but it was a small light in a vast area, easily overlooked,
Then two other lights appeared behind Deepak. He spun round and saw a pair of young men, each holding a bigger torch than his. At first their lights dazzled him and and it was hard to see what they looked like.
"Stay where you are mate," a voice ordered. "There's a deep channel between us with strong currents runnin' through it."
"Hold on," the second youth said. "The lifeboat's on its way."
"It had better be quick," Deepak replied. "I can feel the water coming over my feet!"
As his eyes adjusted to electric light, Deepak made out the figures of his companions. They seemed to be near his age. Both wore flat caps and brown coats. Deepak felt surprised at how old fashioned they looked. One of them had sharper features than the other. Odours of fish came off them.
"Sorry, we should introduce ourselves," said sharper features. "I'm Frank Morgan and this is my brother Taran."
"Its the two I heard earlier, through that open window," Deepak thought. He hesitated to give them his name. "Thanks for ringing the lifeboat station," he said aloud.
"Its the least we could do," Frank replied.
Deepak tried to find a dry spot, but there weren't any left. His feet grew cold and clammy. Cool water continued to rise. He could breathe more easily now and so put his jacket back on. Knowing a lifeboat was coming gave him hope, but he hadn't outrun the wolves yet. At his feet, furrows filled with water. Ridges in between looked like the ribs of a skeleton.
"I feel so stupid, getting caught out like this."
"Don't worry, we all make mistakes," Taran assured him. He pointed at his brother, then said "look at the one our parents made." Deepak laughed in spite of his fear. His older brother had said the same about him. Frank shot a dark look at Taran, who seemed unfazed by it.
The would-be astronomer looked out to sea. There was no sign of a lifeboat or any other vessel.
"If help comes to late, tell my parents I love them," Deepak said. If he drowned then his name would appear in the local paper and the brothers would recognise him from that.
"Don't worry,"Frank assured him, "it won't come to that."
Taran said "I never knew my Mum, she died when I was born. Dad had a run of bad luck fishing and he couldn't pay the doctor."
That startled Deepak. He would've asked "why didn't he use the N.H.S?" but a wave struck his legs and distracted him. He stayed on his feet with an effort. A plastic bottle floated past.
"Get back!" he called to Frank and Taran. "Its better if one of us drowns than if three of us do!"
"We'll stay 'till the boat comes," Taran answered. "We risked drownn' every time we put to sea, but we had to earn our keep."
Deepak felt puzzled. Taran and Frank looked like teenagers. What was this about earning their living? The trainee astronomer recalled how a school trip had been cancelled due to issues of health and safety. These Morgans were leading a very different...
"Look everybody, I think that's the lifeboat," said Frank.
Deepak spun round and saw bright lights out at sea. Sounds of an engine drifted over lapping waves. He shouted and waved his arms. Muscles trembled all over his body and he feared that he'd collapse. Those lights drew nearer. Deepak looked over his shoulder and called "thank you!"
A wave rolled up to Taran's legs. It didn't hit them, it went through them. Deepak's jaw dropped and his blood felt like ice. He turned to face the lifeboat and the lights behind him went out. He spun round and saw that both brothers had gone. He resumed shouting and waving.
The orange boat was close enough for her crew to see him. They halted and two people scrambled out, into shallow water. They asked how he was and how long he'd been there. He answered as quickly as possible.
"Were there other people here?"
"Yes but they've made it to safety. They were nearer to the shore than me" His companions checked but no one else was in sight. A strong man took Deepak's right arm and a brave woman gripped his left. They managed to get him into their boat, then took him away with them. They draped a blanket over him. As they raced across the sea, Deepak felt as if he was leaving his stomach behind.
The woman asked "who were those other people who shone torches?"
"I-i don't know, I've never met them before."
Deepak shook from head to foot as tension drained from his body. That woman wrapped him in a second blanket. She spoke to a crew mate. Despite the noise of the engine, Deepak heard a few words. "Strange call... crackling like an old land line."
Once on shore he went to hospital for a checkup, but was soon discharged. The young man went home to an emotional roller coaster. His parents were overjoyed that he was safe, then angry that he'd got into that situation. Days passed before things settled down. Only then did he think hard about the Morgans. He didn't tell his parents that the brothers were ghosts.
One morning, Deepak switched his computer on and recalled all he could about Frank and Taran. Then he googled local history. Finding nothing relevant that day, he took a break and tried the next morning. Nearby, a floor light curved like a goose's neck. Having started with the inter-war years, he moved on to World War II.
While viewing the website of a local history society, something caught his attention. He read the article in question, growing tense as he did so. "Tell me this isn't true," Deepak thought. "I don't want to believe it." He glanced around at the limestone fire surround and a potted geranium, then read on.
In 1943, two local boys had been put on trial for illegal gambolling. Their names were Frank and Taran Morgan. They were fishermen living in a hut on the coast. The police noticed the brothers had plenty of money to bet with, and that was odd considering their background. Further enquiries revealed that Frank and Taran had been cutting telephone lines and setting fire to factories. They insisted that an older man, a Nazi sympathiser, had forced them into sabotage. He had paid them well for their efforts. This traitor had somehow evaded justice while the brothers went to prison with hard labour. Since their father was away at sea and their mother had died, there was no one to support them. Deepak tried to find out more but the trail went cold. He slumped in a chair, angry with the brothers and on their behalf too. Had they told the truth about being under duress? He wanted to think so. Who was that Nazi sympathiser? What were his motives? There was no way of telling.
One thing was clear, Deepak had been given a second chance of life. He sat and stroked his chin, wondering how to make the most of it. Then an idea formed in his mind, like a cloud growing over sun warmed sea. He spent the next few hours contacting friends via social media, explaining his plan and asking for support.
After a few days he returned to his laptop and, using Zoom, called a meeting of his friends. When everyone was watching, Deepak started dancing in his living room. He played some of the biggest hits of recent memory and danced with skill and passion. Young limbs made clean lines. His feet were light on a beige carpet. A brass figure of Shiva stood on the sideboard, appropriately as he had danced when the world was born. While Deepak performed his classmates donated money, online, to their local lifeboat station. When Deepak finished, cheers and clapping swept from the laptop and into his house. He smiled, wiped his forehead, then took a bow.
His friends contacted other people, via social media, and explained what he was doing. Someone posted a video of him dancing. Word spread quickly and more people pledged their support. Before he was through, Deepak Chopra had raised £1,000 for the lifeboat crew.