Copyright © Laura Crean 2012
Image on the cover by Shari Weinsheimer – http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=4420&picture=driving-on-a-country-road
Before you read this story you might want to get a playlist together of the songs in the story. Believe me, if you hear the songs at the right point it makes this story so much more interesting LOL. Here are the YouTube links for the songs – enjoy!
Adele – Set Fire to the Rain – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lWUNwxz3-U
Patsy Cline – Crazy – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OVtpnpCOKM&feature=related
The Doors – Roadhouse Blues –
Brian May – Driven by You –
Erasure – Stop –
John’s alarm ripped him out of his dream of deep sea diving in the Bahamas and into a very dark bedroom, outside the wind and rain was lashing and it sounded as if a few bins and things were being blown about in the storm. He slammed his hand down hard to silence the alarm clock, knocking a glass of water over in the process and cursing, rolled out of the bed onto his knees groaning that he didn’t want to get up so early but stumbled into the bathroom to wake himself up with a shower anyway.
He dressed quickly and grabbed his packed suitcase then stumbled down the stairs, tripping up his luggage half way down and jumping the last couple of steps, thumping shoulder first into the front door. He was just wondering if maybe he should go back to bed and just forget the whole thing when his mobile phone rang.
John glanced at his wrist watch before taking the phone out of his trouser pocket, it was 5am. “Morning Jimmy boy, checking I’m up are we?” There was a short chuckle on the other end of the line,
“Well I know what you’re like when you have to do these early mornings. Now grab a coffee to wake you up and pick me up in 15 minutes OK?”
“Oh my God you’re so demanding! I’m on my way!” He laughed and his Brother-in-Law answered:
“Right, well, see you in a bit then.” The line went dead and John shook his head with a smile as he put the phone back in his pocket. Jimmy always was a stickler for time-keeping, he thought, and went into the kitchen for that much needed early morning wake up coffee.
He turned the radio on in the kitchen, out of habit, and listened to the latest tunes while he waited for the kettle to boil. He popped a couple of pieces of bread in the toaster and the news came on the radio warning of the stormy conditions and advising people not to travel unnecessarily. John sniggered at that and said out loud to the radio “You try telling my Brother-in-Law that! He’s determined to get a full week’s fishing in!”
There seemed to be a pause and then the radio D.J said:
“OK then! Will do!” John took a double take,
“Huh? What on Earth?” He stopped and turned the radio up but the D.J had carried on talking “Let’s have a listen to Adele and Set Fire to the Rain…”
John ate his breakfast as quickly as he could and then stumbled to the car in the rain, fumbling with the keys in his pocket he pushed the button and the lock beeped as it opened. He threw his luggage and fishing rod into the boot of his black Land rover and then practically threw himself into the driver’s seat with a sigh, “What the hell am I doing?” he said aloud to himself and smoothed his wet hair back out of his eyes before starting the car. “I must be crazy!” The radio came on and he set off to pick up his Brother-in-Law for their fishing trip. ‘Crazy’ by Patsy Cline came on to the radio… ‘Crazy, I’m crazy for feeling so lonely…”
John looked at the radio and frowned, “that’s weird,” he mumbled under his breath thinking it was an odd coincidence that the radio had started to play that song just as he had said the word crazy. Also, it wasn’t his usual station. He pushed the tuner to fix his favourite station and a few minutes later he was pulling onto his sister’s driveway.
His sister was in the kitchen packing the men a lunch and filling a cool box for their trip and John’s baby nephew was sitting in his high chair banging his spoon and shaking his plastic keys, with a bottle hanging out of his mouth. John wandered over and ruffled the little one’s hair and did his usual trick of trying to take the bottle out of the little boy’s mouth. The baby bit hard onto the teat and started giggling as John pretended to try and get it off of him. His sister laughed,
“You teasing my boy again?”
John gave his sister a hug and she shook her head,
“Are you sure you two want to go out in this? It looks like it might be a wasted trip to me.” John shrugged his shoulders,
“Jimmy seems to think the storm will be over by the time we get there and tomorrow we’ll get some fine fishing in!” He laughed, “You know how much your fella loves his fishing!”
“Mm…well just be careful in this terrible weather, take it slow.”
“Will do sis” John said seriously, knowing how much his big sister could worry.
“Now Johnny I mean it OK? You be careful, and if the weather doesn’t improve you come home.” John saluted,
Jim came into the kitchen and kissed his wife. He picked up the cool box, lunch box and flask of coffee, “Right come on John-boy let’s get going!” John shook his head,
“You really do still want to go then, in this storm?”
“It’s just a bit of rain, come on, it’ll be fine once we get there!”
John and his sister exchanged a look of exasperation and then John followed his Brother-in-Law back out to the hall and helped him with his luggage. “See you next week sis! Have fun with the kiddies!” She snorted,
“Yeah! We’re gonna have a ball – a whole week with Nanna Marjory and grumpy Gramps!” Both the men laughed at that and her husband replied,
“Yeah well, good luck then! At least you’ll have Lil Lucy to keep you company and give you a hand – or is she staying at College?”
“No! She’s coming home for the holiday, it’ll be good. Go on – have fun!”
The men ran to the car and then set off in the rain, “How are you finding your new beast?” Jim asked John, referring to his Brother-in-Law’s new car.
“Yeah she runs like a dream. The radio seems to have a mind of its own though, keeps drifting off station which is rather annoying, you know how I like my music!”
“Odd!” Jim agreed.
The journey started off well, the men chatted happily about their jobs and family members, Jim talked about his wife and kids and they listened to the radio, occasionally singing along to a tune that they both knew. The rain continued to hammer down and the wind seemed to howl, rocking the car a bit too much for John’s liking. The odd rumble of thunder in the distance concerned him but he didn’t let on how much it did to Jim as he didn’t want to spoil it for him. He knew how stressed he had been at work lately and how much he needed this break.
The motorway seemed practically abandoned, very few people were out driving in the bad weather conditions, most had obviously taken the advice to stay at home and not travel! After an hour John started to feel worried that they were going to get stuck and voiced his concerns to Jim, “Maybe we should turn back.”
“What? Are you crazy? It’s just rain for crying out loud, you never driven in the rain before?” John turned the radio up as the traffic news came on, giving details of a car crash a little way ahead. “That doesn’t sound too good!” He mumbled under his breath as the traffic started to build in front of them and soon they were sitting in a queue behind the pile up. Sirens whined past them as the emergency services moved in to do their job.
As they sat there in the car as another hour drifted past while they waited for the police to divert the traffic around the accident, the radio station drifted again and an old Doors track started playing, it was ‘Roadhouse blues’ and the first couple of lines struck a chord with John that made the hairs on the back of his neck prickle with nervous tension – ‘Keep your eyes on the road your hands upon the wheel’. Was he imagining it or was the radio talking to him again?
He must have looked shocked because Jim turned to him and asked in a concerned tone
“you OK Johnny? You look a bit peaky.”
John nodded dumbly and as the traffic started to move off again he gripped hold of the steering wheel and kept his eyes peeled on the road ahead. The crash was pretty bad, a policeman stood in the middle of the lane waving the traffic past, there were 3 pretty mangled vehicles in the road and John tried not to look but it was quite clear from the amount of blood and crushed and contorted bodies that if anyone had escaped this wreck then they were damn lucky.
They edged past the tragedy and as John fixed his eyes on the road ahead he heard Jimmy suck in a shocked breath and then sigh as he said: “Oh that’s sad, there were children in the cars – they didn’t make it!” John nodded his head and agreed with his brother-in-law that it was really bad luck.
Soon they started to make progress again but the rain continued to sheet and the wind continued to howl, rocking the car gently as they drove making him feel a little sea-sick and John could see the trees bending over and branches and other wind-blown debris flying around outside their little cocoon and he thanked his lucky stars that he had bought the beast – it was a strong and sturdy machine and could cope well with an all-weather drive like this.
After another hour John could feel his bladder getting full and knew he wouldn’t last too much longer without a pit stop and his belly started rumbling with the thought of lunch, so as soon as he saw the signs for a motorway café and toilet he pulled into the slip road and the men jumped out of the car and made a run for the door, laughing at the fact that they were stopping to eat when John’s sister had packed so much food. Jim commented that she would be furious if she knew they were going into a greasy spoon for a full English breakfast. John shrugged, “I’ve nothing against my sister’s sandwiches Jimmy boy but a man needs a belly full at a time like this.” Jim laughed,
“I hear ya bro.” He slapped John on the back and headed for the counter as John made for the Men’s room.
As he came to the door to the toilet John noticed out of the corner of his eye a very sullen looking youth sitting at one of the tables, he glanced at the lad, a scruffy looking teen with the usual messy torn jeans and battered trainers boys of his age wore but he looked very pale and sad. He had a tear-stained face as if he had been crying and had wiped his tears across dirty skin. John caught his eye as he reached for the door handle and gave the boy a smile. The boy seemed to see him but didn’t smile back, he looked lost in faraway thoughts and John wondered if he was a runaway.
John forgot the boy and the two men enjoyed their cooked breakfast and soon got up to carry on their journey. Jimmy had trouble pushing the café door open against the wind and it took their breath away when they finally got it open between them. Just outside the door, in just a hoody and jeans stood the sullen youth John had seen earlier. He was just standing in the café porch looking lost and lonely. Jim started towards the car but John stopped and turned back to the teenager and said, “You OK?” The boy didn’t move or answer but just stood gazing at John with that strange faraway look in his eye. “You look a little lost, can I give you a lift into the nearest town?”
Jim had stopped to see what john was doing by this time and he called to him to hurry up because John had the car keys and he was getting wet, “Come on John! What are you doing? I’m getting wet here mate!” John looked at Jim and shouted:
“Just a sec” then turned back to the boy. He was gone. John looked all around him and opened the door to look in the café; he was nowhere to be seen.
“JOHN!” Jimmy yelled and John turned and ran to the car. They stumbled into the car and John immediately started the engine and put the heater on as Jimmy cross examined him about his behaviour. “What were you doing?”
“I was offering that young lad a lift – I think he may be a runaway!”
“What lad?” Jim asked confused “It was only us in there.” John looked stunned,
“You didn’t see the scruffy, pale teenage boy in the café and then standing in the porch?” Jim gawked at his brother-in-law as if he thought he had lost his mind,
“John there was nobody in there except us!” John shook his head and said under his breath
“Yeah whatever – you’re blind! Come on let’s hit the road.”
The lashing rain turned into a fine drizzle and then stopped but there still seemed to be a fair breeze and it was cold and the clouds were dark and still very stormy looking. They drove on towards their lakeside destination and after just a couple of miles hit a town. John wondered whether they should go and pick up some beers for later as his tea-total sister hadn’t thought of packing any and he thought they could do with winding down after their mammoth drive. Jim agreed so he pulled into the nearest supermarket and they went in for their holiday goodies.
They came back out of the supermarket and crossed the car park, beers and munchies in hand, suddenly John stopped dead in his tracks. Jim turned to see what was keeping him this time and saw his brother-in-law just standing staring at something in the distance, “What’s wrong?” John pointed to a bus stop across the road,
“It’s that boy again, I swear it is. Look at him standing at the bus stop.” Jim looked at the empty bus stop and frowned,
“You’re seeing things again John, there’s nobody at the bus stop.” John whipped his head angrily from the boy to his brother-in-law,
“What are you talking about, he’s right there!” But when he turned back the boy had gone again. John shook his head and stumbled; Jim ran over and steadied him,
“John? Look, you’re obviously tired, why don’t I drive the rest of the way huh?”
The men got in the car with Jim in the driver’s seat this time and they set off but John was starting to feel really uneasy, was the boy a ghost, an hallucination – what? The radio made a crackling noise and the radio presenter said “yes John, you’re right!”
“Please Jim in God’s name tell me you just heard that, on the radio, he said my name!”
Jim looked at his brother-in-law and best friend with real concern.
“Of course I heard it; the contestant’s name is John! The radio presenter was congratulating a John on the station for guessing the right year in the Time Tunnel game.” John sighed in relief, “Oh!”
“What’s going on buddy? Talk to me, you’re acting as if you’ve seen a ghost or something.” John laughed nervously,
“Well actually…” He trailed off and Jim laughed,
“Oh I get it, the pale-faced boy right? You really think he’s a ghost that you keep seeing?”
“I don’t know! Maybe I’m just seeing things, reading something into it that isn’t there. So I saw the boy and you didn’t, that doesn’t mean he’s a ghost right?”
“Right!” Jim agreed but both men were starting to feel uneasy now.
They were now on the last leg of their journey and were looking forward to settling down in the cabin by the lake with an open fire and a beer or two but as they drove out of town and back into the countryside the sky grew darker and darker and the radio started to become more and more crackly with interference.
“Turn it off John will you, it’s giving me a headache!”
“Yeah OK I’ll stick a disc on. “ He opened the glove compartment and took out the CDs that were in there and then he noticed a disc in a clear plastic cover stuck down the back. He pulled it out and took it out of its cover. It had no markings on it and he knew it wasn’t his. “That’s odd!” He whispered and Jim took his eyes from the road for a second to look,
“What is?” he asked. John put the disc in the CD player.
“It must have been left behind by the previous owner.” He said almost to himself, “I wonder what kind of music they liked.”
The disc started playing, it was a Queen track – Brian May singing ‘Driven by You’. John nodded, “OK! Not too shabby, it could have been classical or country!” They both laughed and it started to rain again. “Ooh! Everything I do I do for you…” Brian May’s voice came singing out of the sound system. “We touch and you’re afraid of me and we burn and now I’m at your feet, high speed but you know you’re in safe hands…” John started to feel a little uneasy by the words in the song and as he listened to them he could feel Jimmy tensing up next to him too. “Ooh you’ll be forgiven if you think you’re dreaming but we’re working night and day to make your dream come true – yeah! Everything I do is driven by you…”
John whispered: “I’m not sure I like this Jimmy…”
“Well it’s tough to make a journey through,
the right stuff is dead ahead of you and me
and you know we’ve still got time.
Hold on tight to the driving wheel
Cos this ride is really out of line…”
Just then there was a huge fork of lightning just ahead of them and a deafening crack. Jim slowed right down, “Whoa! OK that was close.” He eased the car forward slowly, the Queen track still playing and the men glanced at each other. John whispered,
“Something just doesn’t feel right about this drive Jimmy. I think someone’s trying to tell us something – can’t you feel it – A static charge in the air?” Jim shook his head,
“You know I don’t believe in any of that spooky stuff Johnny.” But inside he was starting to feel really spooked. He drove on slowly, gripping the steering wheel until his fingers felt numb.
They were driving through forest now and all John could think of was how this was the last place he wanted to be in the middle of a thunder storm. The Queen track ended and an old Erasure track came on,
“We’ll be together again; I’ve been waiting for a long time. We’re gonna be, we’re gonna be together again…” The men looked at each other and John said to Jimmy,
“You know what song this is don’t you?” Jimmy took his eyes from the road for a second to look at John and nodded. Turning back to the road he eased really slowly forward as they were coming to a sharp bend in the road. Andy Bell, the singer, was just coming up to the line “STOP! Stand there where you are, before you go too far…” They turned the bend in the road so slowly Jimmy was hardly moving and there right in the middle of the road was a large tree limb, still fizzing and smoking from the heat of the lightning that had severed it from the tree. If they had come round the bend at any speed it would have been fatal for them.
Jimmy parked the car at the side of the road safely and turned the hazard lights on. He turned the radio off and the music was silenced and they sat there for a moment, both trembling at the disaster they had narrowly avoided. “We had better call the police and let them know. It will have to be moved and we had better make sure nobody else comes round that bend.” Jimmy said, his voice shaking in shock.
“You call the police, I’ll go and stand in the road and stop traffic.” John replied.
Jimmy phoned the police on his mobile and then rang his sister to let her know that they were running late, had been delayed by the weather and that he would call her again when they arrived at the cabin. Then he walked back round the bend in the rain to wait with John. He put the phone in his pocket and looked up through the shower, water dripping off of his nose to see John waving at someone across the road. He followed his line of vision and saw a young man standing by the trees. It was obviously the pale boy John kept seeing, only this time Jim could see him too. He sucked in a shocked breath and stumbled over to his Brother-in-Law as the boy waved back.
John saw Jim coming towards him and he saw him looking right at the boy. John turned to see if the boy was still there. He was smiling now and was waving at Jim. Then he turned one more time to wave at John and smiled at him before disappearing into the forest. Jim looked like he was going to throw up and he stammered as he approached his Brother-in-Law: “Oh my God John – I know that boy!” John shook his head,
“What? But how? Who is he?”
Jimmy was crying now and John put his hand on the other man’s shoulder, “It’s OK Jimmy-boy! Who is he?” Jim sniffed and looked up, wiping his eyes,
“I was engaged to his Mum, years ago before I met your sister. He’s my, he’s my son John!”
“What?” Jim nodded and started to cry again.
“I left his Mum when he was a toddler and I barely saw him, she moved away to America, taking him with her. But I found out last week that they had come back a few years ago and he had died in a motorcycle accident. That’s why I haven’t been myself and why I needed to take this trip because I hadn’t told Margaret about him and I just needed to get away for a bit and think – you know?” John was stunned at how it was all coming together. Then he asked Jim
“What was his name?”
“Michael, Michael Chester, his Mum never gave him my surname.” John looked thoughtful for a minute and said,
“Chester! Why does that surname seem familiar to me?” Jim shook his head and then John looked up as if a light had just gone on in his memory. “His Mother’s name wasn’t Charlotte Chester was it?” Jim looked stunned that John had picked out her name and said that yes it was, “How do you know that?” John looked to the forest where the ghost of Michael had been standing, “Because that’s who I bought the beast from!”
That night the two men finally settled down in the cabin with the fire roaring and their beers in hand and they reflected on the strange day and how it had played out. It was clear now that Jim’s son had been watching out for them from the minute John had bought Charlotte’s car. Somehow he had known what was going to happen to them and the only way he could talk to them through the veil of death was through the radio. John decided he would listen more closely to the music on the radio from now on – who knew when he might get another message…