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Friday, 11 May 2012

The Letter

So here it is, the final assessment for my course. I've had to wait to post it until the results came back. A short story, 1,500 words with the choice of a number of elements, timeshift, conversation and a few other things to include. After a quick re-edit I'm happy with it, though a lot was chopped out to get towards the limit! Anyway, this is it! 

The Letter.
Pete paced slowly across to where the motorcyclist had finally come to a rest, nearly a hundred yards from where the bike had clipped the curb. It was a cold, grey, washed out Spring morning. It wasn’t raining but the air was filled with dense moisture, waiting to lift like a curtain to reveal the oncoming dawn. He had never seen an accident before but as ever curiosity, more than horror, got the better of him. As Pete approached his footsteps grew hesitant and his eyes scanned the motionless body for signs of life. It was obvious that the rider was male given the stocky build and squared shoulders but of anything else he couldn’t be certain. Pete made his way closer, edging past the patches of leather and rubber grated onto the tarmac where the poor soul had bounced and rolled like a rag doll. The acrid smell of burnt rubber filled his nostrils and choked his lungs. In the distance the bike’s engine was still running, put-putting as it clawed for life, mimicking the fate of its rider.

As Pete knelt down the rider’s arm suddenly fell limply and, like a listing ship, the body slowly keeled over onto its back. Pete’s heart galloped and leapt as he stood upright and staggered back, startled by the movement of what after all he expected to be a corpse.

Ignoring the thumping rhythm being hammered out through his chest he advanced again. There was still no sign of life but there was definitely something uneasily familiar about the body. As Pete examined further he suffered an even greater jolt. The rider was wearing the exact same unmistakable watch as Pete. Identical to the gold plated timepiece left by his father thirty years ago. In fact, despite their now tattered and scuffed appearance the leathers looked pretty similar to Pete’s too. In a second his heart went from thunderous cacophony to silence. This wasn’t some unfortunate, mysterious body. It was his. Pete’s. Laid out in the gutter in front of his own startled eyes. Instantly he was overcome with a crippling pain that shot across his brain like a lightning bolt thrown by Zeus himself. The agony crackled through his core, stealing his breath. Gasping for oxygen, his lungs burning, he dropped to all fours.

As he writhed he was oblivious to the sirens screaming their way to the scene. A paramedic followed closely by an ambulance and police car. Although adjacent to him their screeching tyres, wailing sirens and urgently barked instructions seemed somehow damp, distant and muffled. They checked for vital signs and as they carefully removed the helmet Pete’s worst fears were confirmed.

Consumed by pain and blinded by confusion Pete, without warning, felt a strong, warm and comforting hand on his shoulder. Instantly, somehow, the raging inferno of pain dissipated to a cool, halcyon quietness that flowed across him, overwhelming and extinguishing the panic. Pete regained his composure and gradually returned to his feet. 

‘Is that it?’ Pete asked in an astonishing calm, not really thinking, or more importantly questioning who to. ‘Am I dead?’
‘No Pete,’ came the softly spoken reply, the same voice as before, ‘not yet’.
‘Not yet?’ he remarked in gasped astonishment. ‘”Yet!” That’s hardly a comfort is it? You don’t believe in plot spoiler warnings do you? Not yet! That guy doing CPR could succeed. Go on mate, give me another shock, I’m up for it!’

Pete’s pleading words of encouragement were vociferous but vanished into the chilled morning air. They failed to reach their target or even a level of audibility that could generate the faintest reaction from the paramedics.  His heart sank and it wasn’t for a moment or two that it even crossed his mind to wonder who it was he was talking to.

‘Are you who I think you are?’ he asked quite forthrightly with more than an edge of nervousness lining his tone.
‘Well, that depends entirely on who you think that could be Peter’ came the enigmatic reply ‘but I suspect I am.’

He stood, slightly puzzled and mildly dumbfounded. Finally focussed his inquisitive mind, eyebrows arched skywards.

‘But, as I’m sure you’re aware, I’ve never really believed in, well, God! So, why now?’

Before the unknown, wise and aged figure had time to reply another, more pressing thought came to the forefront of his mind.

‘Oh no!’ he declared sorrowfully as he turned his attention back to his failing body, ‘The letter!’

Everything started to trickle back. After the chaos of the crash his memories were landing like a flock of birds returning to a field having been startled by the backfiring exhaust of a passing truck. Why he was on the bike, where he was going, what was so urgent and finally, most importantly, the letter that he was carrying?

When he got back from work last night he hadn’t thought twice about the post. The usual cluster of red reminders chasing the money they knew he didn’t have. It was scooped up and dumped on the coffee table amongst their opened and ignored predecessors. It wasn’t he didn’t want to pay them, quite the opposite in face. In the six months since leaving the prison at Ranby he had done everything in his power to get his life back on track. Not until later that night having settled with a cold beer and his microwave for one did he notice, amongst the bold printed fonts and increasingly agitated demands there was one hand written letter. He picked it up, inspected it closely. A crumpled eggshell envelope with his name scrawled in blue ink. Pete had hesitantly opened it and as his eyes scanned down the spidery text a tear welled in the corner of his eye. It was from his daughter Jessie.

Jessie was eight years old when Pete had gone away and the first visit from his fiancée Gemma was the last he heard of either of them. It was a rushed, garbled one-way conversation with confused reasoning that Pete had understood very little of at the time. He’d had six years to go through it with a fine toothed comb in his mind and it still made little sense. Gemma believed that they’d both be better off without him even though the robbery was her idea and her brother was the leader of the gang. It took less time to come to terms with the fact he wasn’t going to be around for a while than it did for the jury to find him guilty. The one thing that did get to him though, that managed to sneak through the armour at least once a day without fail, was the fact that he hadn’t once heard from Jessie.

The letter showed that somehow Jessie had managed to find him. Somehow one of the hundreds of emails, texts or calls since he got out hit the right note, found the right sympathetic ear or landed on the right desk. Pete didn’t care how. He had the letter and an address to contact her. That was all he needed. His reply had taken all night. An emotional outpouring flowed through the roller coaster of losing and re-discovering her after all this time and it now lay stuffed into his jacket pocket, creased by the tumbling as he sped to the post office. All this just to slip on the wet road surface, losing control of his bike on a damp April dawn ending up in the predicament he found himself, standing over his body watching his life drain away into the gutter.

‘Why couldn’t I just do this one thing?’ Pete asked with a knowing acceptance, shaking his head.
‘Well as the Fun Lovin’ Criminals sung, “Twenty twenty is hindsight” Peter. We act in a way that we think is best at the time.’
‘You don’t have to remind me of that. I spent the last six years telling myself that.’ a wistful Pete replied allowing a mournful tone to creep into his voice for just a second, before something dropped and he snapped out of it. ‘Hang on. I didn’t realise that you were a Fun Lovin’ Criminals fan. I thought you’d be more into your hymns and stuff. You know, the classics?’
‘Just as I created all men and love all men equally, so too I love their music.’ The figure smiled to himself.
‘Really? Even Justin Beiber?’ Pete exclaimed unbelievingly.
‘Yes Peter. Even Bieber.’

This puzzled Pete but, in the context of a conversation with someone that he never really thought existed, it made no more or less sense than any of the rest of his current predicament. In short, he didn’t argue the point.

As the two spoke the paramedic attending Pete’s crumpled body looked up to his colleague. Without saying a word their shared look and faint shake of the head said everything.

‘You haven’t long Peter. Is there anything you want?’ the robed, anonymous man sympathetically enquired.
‘Shouldn’t you be all knowing?’ retorted Pete, ever the sharp mind despite his life draining from its vessel in front of them, ‘You know there’s only one think I want. Only one thing I wanted for six years.’

The unknown man said nothing. His eyes just crinkled into an essence of a smile, the corners of his mouth giving away nothing. They both just turned once more to the paramedic who was searching Pete’s jacket. He removed a wallet, then mobile phone and finally the envelope. He delicately flattened it out before reading the address and placing the letter inside his own jacket.

In that moment Pete knew the letter was safe, he knew that Jessie would see it and have comfort knowing he loved her all those years. In that moment, he was gone. And so was the stranger.

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