Authors: David McGowan
right of David McGowan to be identified as author of this work has been
asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs
and Patents Act 1988.
characters and events in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to
real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a
retrieval system, copied in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording or otherwise transmitted without written permission
from the publisher. You must not circulate this book in any format.
The musty smell inside the
cab attacked the senses of Bill Arnold, and he found himself pondering on what
he should compare it to. A closet left full of clothes and untouched for half a
He breathed deeply and
gulped, forcing the musty, dusty air down his windpipe. No. More like a room
full of decaying, yellowing paperbacks, centuries old.
The cab needed a good
clean, he realized. What he couldn’t work out was why
should be the
time for him to consider this. Of all the times in the past five days that he
could have thought about it, he had picked now.
His eyes fleeted across the
paneling in front of him, registering to his brain the thick coat of dust that
Voices crackled on the CB
radio. Distant voices. People he did not know. He had never once spoken over
the hissing, gravelly void, and he had learned to tune out the stream of voices
that continuously whispered, there but not there – out of reach.
He normally preferred to
keep himself distracted by taking in his surroundings. That was, after all, his
reason for driving the big rig. His trucking career had begun with the desire
for freedom, and he had longed to find release on the solitary journeys he
undertook. The more time that passed, however, the more cut-off and confined the
cab made him feel. The hulk of metal restricted him. And he always had to go
back. Back to the most restrictive, constrictive thing of all. The thing he was
never allowed to escape from.
For once, the cocoon of the
cab was welcome. He listened to the voices, and he looked at the dust. He
couldn’t bring himself to look out of the window of the stationary cab; the
sight of twisted, mangled metal made his heart rate soar. He looked at the
backs of his hands, strong, gripping the wheel tightly. His knuckles
white; such was the force of his hold, and as the
events of two hours before replayed over and over in his mind, it was this grip
which kept him in the real world, as his head spun and his stomach continually
lurched, flipping over and over like the car that lay crushed seventy yards
away had done two hours earlier.
A knock on the window made
him jolt, and he banged the back of his head hard enough to make stars appear
in front of his eyes as the highway patrol officer signaled for him to continue
on his journey.
The engine turned over on
the first attempt, and Bill Arnold inched slowly along with the single line
procession of traffic, past the crushed Toyota, which now sat on the back of a
haulage truck. When it had hit the oil and spun out of control it had flipped
spectacularly, and he had thought then that anybody inside didn’t stand a
He had been right.
An officer using an
oversized broom swept up debris – which included a plastic sign that proclaimed
‘Baby on Board’
, and Bill wiped away a tear with the back of his hand as
the traffic in front of him split into two lanes.
That’s just it
, he thought,
One tear was normally more
than people had to give. Life had become like the endless stretches of blacktop
that opened in front of him – a jostling merry-go-round where every man fought
for himself and every inch was won with sometimes extraordinary risks being
All at breakneck speed.
Life for Bill Arnold was a
hill, and while he strove to get up the almost sheer precipice, pitfalls like
the random acts of a god that allowed babies to die on cool June evenings made
him wonder what he might look forward to if he ever managed to drag his burdens
all the way to the summit. Whether what would lie ahead of him would be enough
to distract him from the wasteland that lay just over his shoulder, opened out
to inspection. Maybe there was only more barren wilderness on the other side.
no higher force.
He certainly felt alone as
he drove away from the scene and towards his house. The temperature dropped
steadily, and the only presence inside the cab with him was the crackling
voices, speaking in another dimension – faceless, disembodied and without
Combined with the image
inside his head of the redundant
‘Baby on Board’
notice, the low crackle
and murmur of the voices added to the sinking and depressed feeling that
resided in his stomach. The cold began to penetrate the cab and chew away at
the joints in his fingers, and he was relieved when he finally reached the
small, unimpressive one bedroomed house and ended his four-day journey.
He let himself into the
house and picked up the small pile of mail that waited for him behind the door.
As he walked into the kitchen, he arranged the three envelopes by their size.
Two of the envelopes were circulars – yet more offers of all-purpose loans and
personal injury compensation. The third envelope was the one he had been
dreading seeing, even as the car ahead of him had flipped earlier.
He opened the refrigerator,
and was disappointed to see that there were just three bottles of Bud left on
the bottom shelf. A moment’s deliberation led him to conclude that he would
go out again tonight. The chilled abyss of the Glen Rock night, with its icy
quality, had made an impression upon his body that was not normally synonymous
with the month of June, and that was something he had definitely been glad to
The morning would hopefully
bring warm sunshine to Glen Rock, and he would make the half-kilometer journey
then. After a good night’s rest he would be able to go and purchase beer
groceries. Not that the term ‘groceries’ encompassed anything more than TV
dinners – his was a life of few pleasures and little effort.
He took one of the
dew-covered bottles and swung the refrigerator door shut, before walking
through the open-plan building, arriving at the sofa in the lounge with half a
dozen paces. Unlike the rest of the house, the sofa was large and luxuriant,
and he flopped down into its comforting embrace – setting down the unopened
beer and the envelope, and allowing himself one more momentary distraction
before he faced the contents of the plain manila parcel.
The sofa welcomed him and
encouraged him to close his eyes, which he did without realizing. Colored
shapes appeared out of the broken images as they disintegrated from his field
of vision and swirled away, to be replaced with fresh streams and orbs of color
that lulled him towards sleep, caressing him in a gentle hold. He listened,
unconsciously, to the sound of his own breathing, which became heavier and
imbued with a murmuring growl, as his eyelids fluttered and the room around him
faded before disappearing into blackness.
The blackness opened out in
front of him, and the comforting lull of sleep’s warm embrace suddenly eluded
him. It was blackness unlike any he had ever seen before. No sliver of light
filtered into this place: it was as dark as the bottom of the deepest ocean.
The veil that shrouded his surroundings was so close as to be pressing against
his eyes. Not even a faint whisper of a breeze blew, and Bill suddenly noticed
something else: He was not breathing.
, he thought, fighting the
urge to panic that manifested itself in waves that beat against the inside of
his stomach, swelling and crashing as though looking for a way out.
But he definitely wasn’t
breathing. When he tried to suck air into his lungs, no breath passed his lips.
This place had no air, and he noticed something else. His feet were beginning
to sink into the floor. It had become like quicksand, and had already claimed a
little over the tops of his feet, bringing with it a sensation of numbness
similar to that he had felt in his fingers earlier.
He blinked, trying to clear
his vision. With each double-blink he heard a
sound, as if a
huge clock hung on a wall he could not see. He stopped blinking and held his
eyes open, but the sound continued, gouging his mind with its brittle strikes.
Now, his ankles were
sinking through the floor, and as he tried to pull his feet free, he felt the
weight of an ocean pressing on his shoulders. His movement was restricted,
almost slow motion. A presence loomed over him. It was behind him, and he was
blind, but he sensed that it was there, and his heart would have skipped a beat
– but for the fact that it had already stopped beating.
The sound swelled in his
ears, matching the feeling of dread in his stomach as he struggled, managing to
free his feet from the grip of the black, airless vacuum and beginning to run.
Trying to escape the thing that was behind him. The thing that now pursued him.
The noise remained, masking
the sound of his feet as he tried to run. Whatever was in this place with him,
its aura hung all around him. It was part of his surroundings, and this
realization made his flight from it more difficult. Impossible. His arms and
legs pumped in slow motion and the ground seemed to slope upwards, fighting
Something appeared ahead of
him. A white orb of light presented itself from the darkness. He couldn’t make
out what it was as he continued to struggle towards its position, and it began
to move away from him. He reached out with his mind, trying to identify it, and
the previously upward slope that he traversed began to even out. He could see
his arms in front of him as his pace quickened, and hope flickered like a spark
in the gloom.
He breathed in and his
heart beat. Something was happening. The floor began to slope away from him. He
began to lose control, flailing wildly towards the dim light once again. The
breath he had so desired moments ago became rapid and uncontrolled, but despite
his headlong rush, the light ahead of him seemed further away than before.
In fact, it was fading, and
he could no longer control the pace of his forward motion. He began to stumble,
his temples pulsing with the pressure of the blood that rushed to his head, and
then his legs buckled and he fell, spinning head over heels. As he rolled he
tried to maintain his view of the white light, but it vanished as quickly as it
had appeared, and he was left spinning uncontrollably towards what could be a
The air around him was
pitch black, and the presence that had seemed to track him earlier returned. It
was now stronger than ever, and as he continued to roll he closed his eyes. The
ticking was louder again. The ground evened out, and he slowed to a stop. He
opened his eyes and got to his feet. The white light ahead of him was there,
almost within clear view. It looked like a baby. He staggered towards its
singular radiant light and looked into its face.
Then he woke up, lying next
to the sofa in the lounge of his home, screaming.
For five seconds and more, he
continued to scream, his anguished cries muffled due to his stubbled face being
pressed into the carpet, before the haze of disorientation cleared and he
lifted his head. When he did so, he was left looking at the envelope.
It was the same as almost
thirty others he’d received in the past couple of months, all without postage
marks, and the terror of the sight of the baby’s bloody, shattered head was
quickly matched by the memory of the unopened mail.