Short Story by Gareth A Williams 2006
They put up the yellow sign within hours of the accident. It was a serious accident, apparently, at 1:30am on the tenth of this month. Witnesses sought; a phone number given. Somebody, please help me.
The first flowers arrived next day, late-evening, not long before the sun set on another hot day. They were hand-delivered by (I would say) the grieving mother. She arrived alone and on foot. No father on the scene, then. In the crook of one fat arm she sported a worn, leather handbag which banged against her fat thigh as she walked along the cycle path, struggling with the oversized bouquet. I could see a reservoir of sweat building on her forehead in spite of a cooling breeze that had her cheap summer dress flapping angrily round her fat ankles. She dumped the lilies, with visible relief, at the foot of the tree, straightened her back and sighed. Then, something having caught her notice, she bent down again and made an adjustment ' a message, a card, not quite in its place. 'To my Craigy,' it said. 'To my angel, with love.' She stood back and admired the flowers one more time. Then she turned and walked back down the lane, ill at ease on her own. I wondered, briefly, what was running through her head: if only Craigy had stayed in last night, instead of hanging out with those so-called mates; if only he had not been speeding; if only he hadn't been so wayward in recent years. He'd been a bugger since his dad left.
I inspected the flowers. They'd probably last about a week before they curled up and rotted under Craigy's tree. Not a great epitaph, when all was said and done.
I recalled a time not long since when there was another yellow sign down Flowers Lane; another appeal for witnesses, another collection of daffodils and lilies. It made front page:
ACCIDENT BLACK SPOT STRIKES AGAIN.
I remember, on that occasion, there was a witness: a girl of seventeen in the passenger seat. She suffered multiple breaks to her neck and spine, and couldn't feel a thing below her shoulders. They reckoned the shock was too much for her, because she seemed to lose her mind in her hospital bed. She took three days to die, rambling on and on about some "dead kid. The absolute stillness of her body accentuated the frenetic madness of her slaver-filled face. "The dead kid... why didn't he see us? He just pulled out¦
"Dead kid? asked the nurse, who at that moment was trying to wipe the slobber from the girl's face. She neither wanted nor expected an answer; the question was automatic, the result of a well-drilled bedside manner. "I'm just going to brush your teeth, love.
"Swerved straight at us¦Stop!
She was never told what happened to her boyfriend; about his final, agonising minutes impaled like a party cocktail sausage on a wooden fence-post in a shit-smeared field.
The coroner (almost certainly impatient to make a lunch appointment) concluded it was down to speed. The lad driving was the type: chav-tastic Adidas sportswear and an in-car sound system that belted out moronic techno crap long after the Fiesta had disintegrated on impact with the field boundary.
This was in the paper three months ago:
COUNCIL AT A LOSS OVER ROAD TRAGEDIES
Council Leader Ian Pollard has described the meteoric rise in deaths along an accident black spot as "inexplicable. The stretch of the b-road known as Flowers Lane has claimed eight lives in the past year.
"Although all the deaths are tragic, said Cllr Pollard, 58, "The road has recently been resurfaced, the speed limit has been lowered and automatic 'SLOW DOWN' signs have been installed. There's little else we can do.
Eight lives in a year. Now the figure stood at eleven, and was about to get worse. Even if I'd known what was going to happen, there was little I could do about it. I needed a witness; someone who could help me.
* * *
I carefully adjust my pedal straps (I like them nice and snug so they don't distract me from riding) and I push off into the gradually descending gloom. The secret of good road-speed is establishing a rhythm ' left, right, left, right - a metronomic, subconscious pounding, gradually building the beat, building the pace, ignoring the oxygen debt, the screaming in the calves, the fire in the lungs. My head stays absolutely still, eyes focused on the road ahead. Left, right, left, right. I race through the gears, almost at full speed now. I hear the familiar fizzing of my tyres negotiating the tarmac road-surface, steadily rising in pitch as my velocity increases. I lean to the right, into the bend at the top of Flowers Lane and only now, briefly, allow myself to free-wheel. I suck in air in violent gasps, enjoying the respite and preparing to resume pedalling as the road straightens out. But an insidious rumbling begins to invade my consciousness. I know it's up ahead but before I can work out what it is I see it: the sporty Nova appears on my side of the road, taking the "racing line. Showing no signs of slowing, the driver has obviously yet to pick me out in the headlights. I find this surprising as I must cut a ghostly figure in my reflective gear. I wait for the expected tyre-scream as the brakes lock, but it doesn't happen. It keeps coming and coming, heading straight for me. The moment of decision arrives: the car is not going to deviate. I panic and pull my handlebars hard right, swerving so violently into the middle of the road that I struggle to stay in the saddle. Only now do I hear the screeching. Too late, the driver realises he is about to mount the cycle path. I clearly see him mouth the word "Shit! He swings the wheel round, but bounces off the kerb before heading back towards me. The thing about swerving is you can only do it once. Having already shot my bolt, I can do nothing but watch.
* * *
Somebody, please help me.
What do you think about in the micro-seconds after impact? The final golden moments before your life ebbs away? I've replayed the moment again and again but it doesn't get any wittier. I looked up expecting to see the stationary car, the only sign of life the idle tick, tick of the engine and the driver's wide eyes staring at me through the rear window. In another second, he would regain his composure, spectacularly rev his engine and set off as fast as he could. "Bastard, I thought. "You sod.
But when I looked, the Nova wasn't there. There was no traffic at all. I was alone in the road.
That, at least, was my initial impression. But something caught my eye on the cycle path; I peered through the gloom and made out a scene of devastation. A Fiat Punto had inexplicably swerved from the road, crossed the cycle path and smashed into a steel signpost. The car's chasse had crumpled like foil, while the post remained unmoved, standing proud and tall above the debris, more or less where the driver would be. What I saw was eerily illuminated by steady flashes of orange light. "Slow Down, the sign was saying. "Slow Down.
Flowers Lane was made infamous last April when 14-year-old Lucas Burgess became the first casualty along that stretch. He was knocked off his bicycle by a hit and run driver who remains at large. A brown Vauxhall Nova was seen speeding from the scene. Lucas, who was a promising cyclist and tipped for success in the 2012 Olympics, became the symbol of a road safety campaign run by his father, Tom Burgess. This campaign culminated in the introduction of automatic speed signs at the exact spot where Lucas died.
I moved closer to the Punto, expecting the worst, and as I approached my fears were realised. What struck me most was the complete silence. By some fluke, both the car's windscreen and rear-view mirror were still attached to each other, although neither retained any trace of glass. Swinging from the mirror was an air freshener, the smell of which had evaporated weeks ago. It had a distinctive design; five bicycle wheels parodying the Olympic flag. It was a memento picked up at the Manchester Velodrome last year. Dad was so excited; so obviously proud. He placed it on the mirror with due ceremony, as if placing a medal on a victorious athlete bowed before him. He said I'd be able to hang my medal there one day.
Dad was such a careful driver, a road safety campaigner. It was inconceivable he could die at the same spot as me. And to die because of me, well that was too much to bear. What hell was this? Somebody, please help me: a witness is sought to my killer's bloody secret.
* * *
I push off and instantly pick up a rhythm. Left, right, left, right. There is no joy in this, but no pain no gain. Up ahead I hear the distinctive rumbling of the Nova and look up to see it once more heading straight towards me.