Named 'Book of the Month' in April's edition of Ulster Tatler
Chris Johnston, a 22 year old university student from Belfast, signs away another summer to lead a team of young volunteers as they travel to Ethiopia to build houses for charity. After an argument with the other leaders, Chris abandons the team and travels north to work for Medical Aid Africa in a clinic close to the Eritrean border. He agrees to join their make-shift ambulance crew in a bid to find the excitement he’s been searching for on the frontline, but finds life very different off the beaten track. Consumed by fear, he is terrified and experiences the true horrors of war as his dreams of heroism and adventure turn into a nightmare. Volunteer is laced with humour, heartbreak and horror and Chris’ journey will leave you questioning your own life, your achievements. If faced with the same situations, what would you do? And if the mental scars of war were carved into your memories, who would save you?
Chapter 1: The End, The Beginning
I was at peace, that feeling between being asleep and awake. Wrapped in a duvet of calm, a gentle breeze teased my exposed skin and the sea whispered a comforting melody.
The darkness dissolved into a kaleidoscope of black and orange that danced in front of my eyes.
How long had I been sleeping?
I was at the beach, wasn’t I? My consciousness stirred. When had I come to the beach?
Despite the crippling exhaustion, curiosity got the better of me; I mean, this was pretty anti-social, and a pale-skinned, Northern Irish man laid cooking in the sun was a recipe for disaster. I forced open my eyes; a hazy silhouette loomed over me.
Was that Michael?
What the hell was he doing here? When did…? Where was…?
“You dumb motherfucker! You’re lucky to be alive.” The words echoed inside my head.
He moved, taking my shade and forced me to lift my heavy arm to block out the piercing glare of the sun. Confused, I squinted to focus. Dried blood and white powder covered my arm. Was that sulfa powder? Was it my blood?
My brain cranked into action and a surge of pain washed over me as the channels to my senses gushed open.
That sound of the sea, lapping the sand, was the roaring engine of Medical Aid Africa’s 4x4, and I was sprawled in the back of the trailer, being buffeted from side to side, wincing with discomfort as we hit any uneven surface.
I had surfaced into the nightmare that was my reality; a life beyond the safe compound of my dreams and as I fought to speak, a dazed confusion enveloped me.
“What happened?” I knew it was over. Done. I’d fucked up!
Gary McElkerney was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland where he gained a BA Hons in Furniture, Product and Interior Design at the University of Ulster before pursuing a career in Lighting Design. Gary considers himself a storyteller more than an author and his experiences volunteering for first aid work in Nicaragua, Hungary and Ethiopia gave life to Volunteer.
Gary continues to live and work as a Lead Lighting Designer in Belfast. His hobbies include playing American Football for the Carrickfergus Knights and also taking part in endurance races around the UK and Ireland raising funds for charity.
Volunteer's publication is the first phase of a wider project, The Ultimate Creative Challenge; to write a novel and get it published, to develop a script and produce a film or TV drama and record songs for a soundtrack album.
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