To read the first eight chapters, please click here.
Monday 4th November 1985: 18.05 – 18.30
Kevin Proctor stared out of his Cavalier’s windscreen, not seeing the road ahead of him or the parked cars and houses drifting by on either side.
He was vaguely aware that he should be taking at least an interest in what was going on outside, but at this moment he couldn’t have cared less.
He’d been so close this time to offering Sally a lift home. So close to having her beside him in the car. So close to taking things one stage further.
Further than what?
No – don’t think like that. From little acorns mighty chrysanthemums grow, remember? Every journey has to have a first look at the road atlas.
It would have been the perfect opportunity. He’d have chatted to her about the events of the day; most of which, unfortunately, had been telephone calls from HL Danvers about the three new manuscripts that had landed on his desk that afternoon, couriered over specially by the benighted nothing-like-a-writer. He’d have told Sally about how he’d been about to start reading that other author’s manuscript each time the phone had jangled. She’d have given him a smile, maybe placed a sympathetic hand on his knee…
He swerved violently as a parked car drove straight at him. Hey – what’s the idea!
At some point in the journey – maybe a hundred – no, perhaps two hundred – yards from her flat, he’d have said with an air of casual insouciance, ‘Say, Sal. How about we continue this discussion over a drink later?’ (Actually, he might have made it ‘over dinner later?’ Yes. Or would that have been too fast?)
She’d have given him another wide smile (did she have a smile – he’d never seen any evidence of it? He was certain it would be wide, though), and replied, ‘That’s a wonderful idea, Kev. Pick me up at eight. I’ll be waiting…’
He shivered at the thought of the promise in those ellipses. Sally Evans and ellipses…
His foot hit the brake almost before his eyes registered the figure that lurched in front of his headlights. His cross-plys screeched, and his body went rigid, waiting for the inevitable crunch.
After a while, when none still came, he began to wonder why the world had gone so much darker than it already had been.
He felt around his face to see if there was some kind of problem there. Oh – that was it. His eyes, he found, were screwed so tightly shut that not a chink of streetlamp was able to penetrate.
Tentatively, he ventured opening one of them.
There was a body sprawled across his crumpled bonnet, its face staring sightlessly in at him, twisted out of recognition against his shattered windscreen.
He rammed the eye shut again. His stomach, which a moment before had been happily contemplating dinner with Sally Evans, began to threaten the expulsion of his lunchtime sandwich; from either direction, or possibly both at once.
Oh, God. What a mess!
He had to do something. They might not be dead. They might be merely winded. They might be…
But there hadn’t been a crunch. Surely there would have been a crunch…
He opened the other eye, to see if that made things any better.
What the…? It did!
There wasn’t a body sprawled across his crumpled bonnet staring sightlessly in at him, its face twisted out of recognition against his shattered windscreen.
No crumpled bonnet, for that matter. Nor shattered windscreen.
What the… a second time?
He tried his first eye again. No. Definitely no body, no damage.
Maybe it was okay to keep both eyes open now.
As far as he could see, there was nothing amiss at all.
And nobody seemed to have jumped out at him a few seconds before, either. Ditto the first six words of the sentence-before-last.
A bang on the driver’s door window made him jump so violently he smacked his head on the roof.
He saw twinkly lights for a few seconds; then, rubbing his head vigorously and saying words under his breath he didn’t know he even knew, he wound down the window.
‘Excuse me, dear,’ the little old woman who was standing there said, ‘I seem to be rather lost at the moment. Could you direct me to Diamond Crescent, please?’
Of course – what Sal would have said in response to him asking her out was, ‘My name’s Sally, Kevin. And don’t be ridiculous; what makes you think I would possibly want to go for dinner with you!’
‘I’m sorry?’ he said to the woman.
Her face had a deathly white look to it. As though all the pigment had been bleached out of it; or as if the skin had gone transparent, and he could see her skull underneath its thin, wrinkled layer.
One eye fixed him with a surprisingly fierce stare, though. The other…
He tried not to look at the other eye.
‘I said, could you direct me to Diamond Crescent?’
Except – she didn’t actually say it as such. She more…
Where was the voice coming from? Not from her lips. And yet – it surely was she who was asking him the question…
These ellipses made him shiver too. But nowhere near in the same way as the Sally Evans ellipses had earlier.
He shook himself mentally. ‘Erm – well, it’s hard to say,’ he managed to say in contradiction to what he’d just said. ‘How are you – I mean, are you driving or walking?’
There was the kind of pause that HL Danvers, in obeisance to the god of cliches, would have described as ‘pregnant’.
‘Do I look as though I’m driving?’ the woman…
‘Said’, for want of a better description.
‘Ah. Well.’ He cast around for something intelligent to append. ‘I suppose not,’ he managed, wondering as he said it whether that suited the adjective ‘intelligent’.
‘That’s right, dear,’ the voice came.
That was it; the voice came. Directly into his head. Not through the usual media of lips and eardrums.
‘So?’ the voice came again.
‘Oh, right.’ He peered around his surroundings, trying to ascertain where he was.
Oh, yes. Policemorgue Avenue. How the hell had he got there…?
‘I think you need to…’ he began.
‘Why don’t you offer the lady a lift?’ another voice said, from right beside him. The other side of him.
And this one did actually say.
‘Yes – good idea,’ he heard himself say in return.
Then, very slowly, he turned his head.
Then, very quickly, he turned his head back again.
The passenger door opened.
‘So kind of you,’ the little old woman whatever-she-did as she got in.
Into the seat from which the other voice had said.
He summoned a smile which he could feel his face refuse point blank to allow itself to display. ‘A p – pleasure,’ he managed to reply, in a voice he at least knew was his own, and a least came from his lips; but one that he barely recognised, nonetheless.
There was another nine months of pregnancy.
‘Well, dear?’ the old woman…
‘Oh.’ He turned the key to restart the engine. ‘Of course.’
With a leg that shook so much he was afraid for a moment it wasn’t going to co-operate, he managed to depress the clutch, select first gear and pull away.