Saturday, 5 September 2009

All Wheels That Have Turned

Frank could not tell what was perturbing him more; the fact that his car would not start, or the body strewn across the bonnet. Fear gripped him, leaving him shaking and stricken with terror. It made the most mundane of tasks seem insurmountable to him, a feat too great for a mere mortals hands. Eventually a semblance of calm began to stake its territory in his troubled mind, led his trembling limbs and guided his hand to the key still in the ignition. Start the car, reverse, and drive away. It seemed so simple, so casual, and yet so remote.

He tried not to look at the face inches from his. He already knew that the boy was dead. Fear lingered at the edge of his consciousness, terrible and pervasive, refusing to be cowed into submission. His hands gripped the steering wheel. It left his hands bleached a deadly white pallor. He felt the blood coarse through his veins, rushing at the temples. His body had never felt so alive and so inactive. Short though his breathing was he still felt as though all his other senses had been heightened.

But this passing fancy soon left him. Frank felt a broken husk of a man, a withered shell. With the greatest of efforts he undid his seatbelt, opened the door and stepped out. The fresh air hit him immediately. It enlivened him; the sound of the breeze rushing through the leaves had never sounded so melodious. He took a deep draught of the air and felt his chest expand and contract as his breathing returned to him.

He pushed the door to, fearful that the sound of it clanging shut would disturb the still of the early morning. Frank looked around him. He had come to a halt on a narrow country road, wooded on both sides. The trees were dense and no light yet penetrated them. He had driven all night, paying no heed to his road. He had no clue as to his whereabouts.

The sun had not yet risen fully, but in the cold gloom Frank could make out enough details to give him an inkling as to where he could be. Above him was a narrow red brick bridge. Its cold austerity was purely Victorian. Frank could perceive a path, faint yet distinguishable, from the road that led upwards.

He made for the path and, after his jaded legs had become accustomed to the incline, made it to the apex of the bridge. Here he found blighted relics of a railway line that had once passed through the woods, rusting and forgotten. But not by all. He peered forth and as his eyes became inured to the murky light he saw that deep rutted paths led from the old line, which was raised from the woodland floor. Here and there lay agglomerations of leaves, which Frank absent-mindedly stumbled into, but no other sound pierced the silence. He turned and walked to the edge of the bridge. Below him was his car, with the body of the young boy spread across the bonnet and windshield. Had he knocked him down or had he jumped from the bridge? He could not remember.

The empty and silent wood unnerved him. Frank scrambled down the slope and moved back towards his vehicle. The gloom was lifting. Somewhere the sun was shining on a verdant field but as yet no shaft of light invaded the copse.

Frank was not a big man, in fact he was probably of below average build, but as he approached the car he seemed to shrink even further. It was as if he was willing his body to fold in on itself, to withdraw from the terrible scene in front of him.

Yet curiosity is a terrible thing. It has destroyed men, caused the ruination of countless lives, led to death, disease, starvation and, eventually, dust. Men of much greater moral fibre, fortitude and application than Frank had been laid low by their curiosity. It had led them into dark holes, places populated by sullied peoples, to dim avenues of the mind and soul.

The sensible course of action was laid out in front of Frank. It would mean an admission of culpability, of guilt, a stain on his persona. His whole life thus far had been an attempt to predicate his existence and control all outside his events. Though a wholly impossible and futile exercise, he felt it important and completely necessary to achieve this.

The sensible and proper course of action was one phone call away. A divulgence of fault that would lead to acts of contrition between himself and those that he loved. His public and private faces would have to meet. He pulled his phone from his pocket. No signal coverage. Frank turned his head to look at the boy. He was slim and couldn’t be more than sixteen. His body possessed that terrible fragility of adolescence. Frank saw himself in the stalk like limbs and shuddered. He reached out his hand; it quivered as it touched skin. The boy was still warm, but it was a fleeting trace. Soon it would drain from the body until there were no last vestiges left.

Frank walked away from the car, rubbing his fingers. Where they had made contact with skin they itched. He felt revulsion subdue him. He looked at his hand. It looked as if it had been blanched by the contact. The morning gloom was lifting. As it cleared glimmers of light would soon fill the wood and road. Far off Frank heard the echoing of birdsong, twittering as they awoke from slumber. The gentle, pealing sound had a palliative effect on him. His heart rate reduced and he felt the blood in his veins begin to flow a little easier.

The road rose as it approached the bridge, so that by standing under it he found himself on the crest of a hill. Looking back the way he came he couldn’t see far, only the road for a few hundred yards twisting into the dense wood. Yet before him the wood opened up and he could see across miles of farmland, green and brown and yellow like a vast checkerboard. Already on the horizon was a dim haze, testament to summer’s intrusion into the autumn months. Frank shivered. His skin felt thin and paltry, he was sure he has never felt as cold as he was now. Gathering his jacket about his shoulders he had a faint fantasy of escaping into the sunshine that slowly spread across the land. He felt a chill within his bones that seemed to attack his very core.

Frank felt the need to think, to be alone. What was to be his course of action? He started walking down the hill, his movements slow and peculiar, until he reached the edge of the wood. The sun was continuing its inexorable rise, zealously striving for the heights. Frank wished he could still its course, so that all remained in darkness. Out there all the land was laid bare; it seemed as if there was not another place of shelter for miles. Frank turned back to the wood. Inside was a haven. He lowered his gaze to the floor in order to avoid looking at the car. Feet guiding him blindly he walked back into the trees.
(This was a piece of writing I submitted for a short story competition a couple of years back, thought y'all might like to read it)

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