I won’t ever forget the dull thump, the snap of glass as the dark head spidered the glass, the body rolling up the car, slipping down again, crunching to the floor as I slammed hard on the brakes. With no time for what I was seeing to sink in, Toby’s Merc slammed into our rear. With my foot still hard on the pedal my body was numb to the jolt.
I sat frozen, Andrew already out of the car. In my peripheral vision I saw as he turned back, his eyes wide at the Merc behind, head slowly turning, eyes catching mine as he followed. I should be the first to see, the shock should be mine, the pain in the centre of my chest was for me to bare as the cause of the disaster that had altered two lives forever. Detached from my body, limbs feeling cold, numb to any sensation, I pulled open the door. Toby joined me and I brushed away his concern, his offered hand to help me out. The journey around to the bonnet took an age, but was over too soon and I watched with a detachment as Andrew knelt beside the body, his corded trousers the only visible sign. Shouts echoed as Andrew reached under the car, then louder as he pulled his head high, looking past me. I turned not hearing the words, and Toby was gone, back in his car, reversing.
Climbing to his feet, Andrew was in control, pushing me with gentle force to the side of the road before he climbed in the car. I turned, alcohol laced bile rising, projecting to the tarmac and I turned back hopeful what I’d seen had been a vision. It wasn’t. He was an old man. Grey hair, wrinkled skin, eyes closed, bloodied face with no expression.
No one checked for a pulse, the guy’s wrinkled head bent at ninety degrees.
Andrew turned me away by the shoulders, gripping my upper arms.
“He was flagging us down, tripped, fell into the road.”
I had no idea of the truth in his words, was he saying this for me? Was he telling me to get my story straight? I didn’t know how he’d come to be in the road. I hadn’t seen a thing.
I knew what had to be done, pulled my phone out, tapping the three digits, barely hearing the flashing pips in my ear.
Mouth hanging wide I turned to the nine, watched my friends hugging, tears streaming as they looked in my direction with sorrow in their eyes. I hated the pity pouring in my direction. All I could do was shake my head as I held out the phone. Hands grasped for their own mobiles, but all came back shaking theirs. I threw up for a second time, Andrew at my side.
I looked around, taking in our surroundings as if for the first time. We were on a dusty back road, fields either side, a column of smoke on the horizon in the direction we’d been heading, but I hadn’t noticed before. It looked to have been burning forever, the smoke dissipating high in the air. To our right was a group of two stone houses just off the road, a red door wide open. I started to walk much to Andrew’s protests.
“Let me,” he said stepping past me.
I shook my head, but still he travelled at my side, his knuckles arriving first at the door, with a high greeting echoing inside. He turned and gestured Tony to the neighbour as we took a step in.
Inside the air was still, silence clung to my throat. It was Andrew who spoke again, repeating the called greeting, but only silence replied. A thick, dampening quiet. We both spotted the phone, Andrew’s hand reaching first, listening for a moment before replacing the receiver. We heard Toby’s knock, his call next door, his footsteps as he joined us.
The TV didn’t work, then I remembered, trying the light switch with my finger.
Toby coughed, the noise violent in the stifling silence.
“We can’t stay here,” Andrew replied, pulling a blanket from the armchair, my eyes opening as I realised what he meant to do.
“I can’t, I can’t,” I replied. Andrew held up his hand.
“It’s okay,” he said and I watched as Toby, red faced, followed Andrew, corralling two of the others. I turned away and headed into the kitchen.
Andrew drove, peering around the mess of a circle in the centre of the windscreen. I sat in the back, Zoe insisting she put her arm around my shoulder, held my hand. Time drifted in fits and starts. One moment it dragged, the world going by so slow, the next minute the scenery had changed, the sky darker, the sun covered by the smoke now thicker than before. The car slowed, but I couldn’t see why, the blocked view a constant reminder. Stopping the car, Andrew opened the door and was half out, peering between the gap. He turned back as he pulled himself out, his face a picture of fear. I didn’t want to get out, didn’t want to leave the comfort, but I had to see why we’d stopped, to see what had made Andrew’s expression so serious.
Zoe made the choice for me, pulling away and grabbing the door handle, the others already at the side of the car, their stares pointed forward, mouths hanging open. Toby turned and caught my eye, his head shaking, eyes wide. A chill ran down my spine.