Chapter 01 – The Water Meadow Man

Darren is a skilful driver

1977

A month after the sale, Darren was driving down The Old London Road into Crosschester at a speed that was okay for him but not so for a less skilful driver. It was November, the mist coming off the River Icene was freezing in the air. Darren was in control. Darren had demob fever after a long day at work, a double shift of chickenshit and dust collection. He didn’t know it, but black ice was forming. He knew the road and he knew his car.

He was a little late as he approached the roundabout in the middle of town, but he was nearly home. Saturday tomorrow, a morning to spend under the car, then to the footy to watch Rovers lose for the last time, and then his last ever night in this shitty little city. Patricia was going to buy an LP from Starkey’s in town, ABBA or something poofy. He’d pretend to like it, and eventually they’d both be singing along. It kept her happy and that was important right now.

Tonight was cod and chips with thickly margarine bread from The Dolphin chippy near the barracks. Then a snuggle, maybe a blow job at last?

The Capri was going too fast for someone else to handle, he was sure of it. He was certain he could tame the car and the landscape so that tomorrow he would be saying goodbye Crosschester, escaping the ancient, dusty old dump for good. For very good.

The brakes seemed only to work when they felt like it.

The steering wheel was impossibly easy to turn but had little effect.

The Maize Yellow Capri slid disgustingly.

Darren would make it all ok in the end. Darren was in charge. Darren was free and clear.

It was all going too fast.

He had the money at last.

He could go to London. He was going to London. Tomorrow.

He pressed the brake pedal, and he felt his foot hit the floor. He had no control. No control at all. He was going to die alone in a cheap, second hand Ford. He had all the money, and he was going to London. Crosschester would not let him go. The engine roared. He pulled at the wheel. He’d work on the car tomorrow. He would.

The Capri skidded around King Egbert roundabout onto Kings Gate Row and the Guild Hall. Darren was proud that he’d managed to stop the car from smashing into the plinth of the bronze statue of the city’s Saxon queen Eadburh that stood in the centre of the roundabout.

Darren was elated. Darren was under control.

He meant “in control”. In control of the babyshit coloured, secondhand Ford Capri that his mate had not fixed at all. Darren would fix it. Good as new. Then sell it for a profit. Good as new.

He tried to close his eyes but they forced themselves open again.

“Fuck you Crosschester”, he thought.

Curse your bones and your foundations.

The Capri slewed. He felt tears on his cheeks as the walls of the city closed in on him.

He stamped on the brake pedal; the Capri slid. There was only ice, slush and snow for the tread of the tyres to bite into. There was no hope.

Everything was shrouded in fog but everything that was about to happen was finally and entirely visible. No lying to himself now.

He tasted egg and chips and salt and vinegar, his favourite plate of food. He thought about a prayer he’d not thought of for many years. One his parents had taught him.

He screamed. He stamped on all the pedals. He sobbed. He was angry and affronted. The car was not sane, it was working against him. It was enjoying playing in the snow.

If only this prayer would come back in full, he might make this life work. He could be back in control with God and his Guardian Angel back by his right and lefthand sides.

He could still see an old man in front of the Guild Hall, and another trying to walk across the road from the bus station to the first one. The second old man was waving his arms and shouting something. The first one had his head down lighting a fag. He was wrapped up tight against the cold, he wore a hat. It was warm looking, one of those Russian jobs, it had flaps, they covered his ears.

Darren felt he knew the old man that this car was about to hit. They’d met before, at the football or in a pub or somewhere like that. They’d exchanged pleasantries. Darren knew him, maybe just the smell of him. He knew his name, it was Mick or Mike or something like that. He had always seemed polite.

The car was going to kill him. Darren took his hands off the wheel and his feet away from the pedals.

The prayer returned as he saw the old man’s face in full. Mick looked surprised but not scared, this was a comfort to Darren. He finally managed to close his eyes.

Guardian Angel, bold and bright
Help to guide my way tonight
Help me follow our Lord on High
And if Guardian Angel I might die
God bless Mummy
God bless Daddy
God bless Patty
God bless All the men at sea
And Guardian Angel, God bless me
God, help me

Darren was such a young man. From the upstairs bar of The Crown and Anchor came a song.

Help guide to my way tonight
Help me, help our Lord on High
Don’t know what I want
And if Guardian Angel I might die
But I know how to get it
God bless Daddy Mummy
I want to destroy passerby
God bless Mums and Dads

There was someone’s blood on the windscreen.

It’s coming sometime and maybe
God bless all the men at sea
I give a wrong time stop a traffic line
And Guardian Angel, God bless me.
Your future dream is a shopping scheme.
God bless Mick
Cause I, I wanna be, Anarchy.
In the city.
God bless Mike or Michael

Darren tugged on the handbrake and pulled the ignition key from its slot. He finally closed his eyes and he screamed.

Read the Free chapters

Prologue – Welcome to Crosschester

Chapter 02 – If only there were words

Chapter 03 – Last Orders

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