We had our issues, but only because our feelings for each other were so strong. For the same reason I’d never been able to stop going back, couldn’t stop returning, couldn’t stop ignoring the daemons. Toni was driven, passionate for life, for her field, for science, for me. She was empathic to a fault, knew what was going on in my head, except when the green mist descended. She was caring, brave, honest, but jealous. Toni wanted me all for herself and I was ready to give her what she craved, but it was her cross to shake off, only she alone could get past the mistrust. I’d never given her any reason to think I wasn’t hers. I’d never cheated, never looked elsewhere while we were together, not that we’d ever been an item for longer than the few weeks in a row we could cling on to. Despite my protests, a phone call, a text message, a look across the room from someone else, would be enough for her to think I’d been with everyone else in the world when I wasn’t laying in her bed.
I’d leave and we wouldn’t speak, until the memories wore thin enough for one of us, usually me, to pick up the phone. We’d talk for hours, slow at first, building it all back from scratch without ever mentioning why I’d run from her bed. Despite our time apart, she was always there, in the back of my head, in my thoughts every hour that passed. Could I forgive her those few slips? Could I forgive the times when the passion boiled over into something more dark? Of course I could, if she’d have let me, but now it was too late. The embers settled on the ground as I cried out her name.
With my mouth in the crook of my elbow, I backed away, wide eyed, lids flickering at the smoke. A cough called from the other side, a high scream for help. The stranger. I remembered. Pulling the curtain of depression aside, I ran around the hunk of wood and saw the stranger pulling Toni by the arm, dragging her away from the fire, their bodies covered in smoking embers.
My face lit with joy and surprise and I jumped forward not looking at the stranger. Together we pulled her clear, our hands swatting at the embers as she coughed the smoke from her lungs. I looked up as the canopy gave a wretched creak with the orange flames engulfing the sky.
“The van,” I called out. Toni’s wide eyes stared back as we dragged her to her feet, the stranger shadowing Toni out from the canopy as I ran, not looking back, jumping in the van, slamming it to reverse. The wood gave a final call and collapsed into a heap, throwing dust out in front as I let the engine revs drop.
“She’s alive,” I said out loud, even though I was the only one to hear. With a wide smile, I shouted out into dusty mist. “The petrol tanks,” I said almost laughing, watching the two squinting faces appear in the mirror, the backdoors opening and closing as I reversed again, swinging the van around as the road grew wide enough for the turn. I kept going, kept motoring on, not paying attention to the country lane, flinching only to look in the wing mirror as the fireball burst out to the sky.
“What’s going on?” said the stranger between coughs. Neither of us replied until I caught the first of the road signs and distance sirens catching in the air.
“Shit,” I said, still with joy in my voice. “I’ve gone the wrong way.” Slowing to let the van stop, I pulled off the road into a lay-by at the side of a field.
“What’s going on?” the woman said as I pulled from between the seats, watching as Toni lay on the carpet floor, her eyes half open as she pulled in slow, controlled breaths. The woman stood in the corner, her eyes flitting around the interior. “What’s going on?” she repeated, pleading in my direction.
I took a moment to contemplate as I stared back, the low sun beaming in through the windscreen, catching her face in the bright light. Despite the dirt on her face, she was classically plain. Not ugly. Not pretty. With unmarked, soft clean lines, she had a face many would fight for and the cosmetic companies would hate. Even with the big coat shrouding her form, I could see she was a little heavier than I would be comfortable with, but that was my choice.
I turned down to catch Toni’s face, watching the black lines of ash streak down her skin and the tiny holes surrounded by black, marking her white tee and the rip across the arm pit, exposing the joint. She was looking up, keeping her breath slow.
“You okay?” I said, my voice soft. She nodded.
“You?” she replied. I nodded back.
“Please?” the stranger said. I looked up, unsure of the words I should use.
“You saw what you saw. Those police man,” I said pausing and looked down to Toni for inspiration. Her eyes closed. “They were dead,” I replied looking back up. “I mean before what happened.” I watched her face react, her eyes stay wide, her forehead still high. I stared on as she held her position, waiting for more words to come, but they didn’t, until she shook her head.
“What does it mean?” she said, tears rolling through the ash on her face. I looked back to Toni’s closed eyes, then to the shelves.
“Do you know how to use a Panasonic AJ-PX380?” I said reading from one of the shelved boxes before turning to her to see her bewildered expression.
“No,” she replied in concert with Toni. I looked down and saw her getting to her feet.
“She’s not tagging along for the ride. Have you got a fucking one track mind?”
I shook my head, the anger rising and jumped back in the driver’s seat as the back door opened with a huff of air from the woman’s lungs. Over her protests at being shoved around, I heard the heavy engines before I saw the flash of blue lights coming over a hill in the distance.
“Toni,” I shouted, turning back as I watched her pull the woman from half way through the door by her upper arm, a gasp calling from the stranger’s lips.
“Keep quiet,” Toni said in a tone that forced me to close my eyes, to think of something else. The doors slammed closed again, leaving only the woman’s sobs to settle while the heavy engines reverberated through the thin metal of the van, the top of the olive drab lorries looming high over the brow.
Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed, like my Facebook page and drop me a message. Let me know if you like what you’re reading.
Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.
Not read Season One? Here it is.