Darmowy fragment publikacji:
Copyright 2014 by Tim Clayton
PART 1 – Departures
PART 2 – Revisionist History
PART 3 – Cat Mouse
PART 4 – Awakenings
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
For my wife and children
Cover design: Ola Furmanowska
Formatting: Krzysztof Kaczyński
SEVEN MONTHS AFTER THE START…
November 30th – Day 230
Mark passed out and came to a few times. He vomited, scratched around on the floor and worked
his way over to the wall on his hands and knees. He pulled himself up into a sitting position and
looked down at this leg; the calf was gashed so deeply he could see down to the bone, which may
or may not have been broken. The ankle was broken, that was for sure. The knee was turned at
the wrong angle. He’d managed to tie the calf off with a rough tourniquet but the blood was still
pumping and had already filled his shoe.
He thought he heard voices far away in the distance and wondered if they had found him, if
perhaps he had left any sign outside the barn that he was hiding in there. There was surely a trail
of blood that would lead to the barn, there was enough of a pool forming below his leg now for
him to assume that he had left a great deal of it outside.
In a way it didn’t matter if he knew they were coming or not, as there was nothing he could do to
get away and nowhere else in the barn to hide himself and all his stuff; it was just a big empty
shell with a few rusting pieces of farming equipment strewn around. All he could do was hope.
Nevertheless, he pulled his things together into his bag and lay there ready to disappear out the
back door, which was little more than a few rotted planks which still clung to the hinges, if
necessary. He probably wouldn’t get far but it was worth a shot.
He lay and waited. His breath cut a new rhythm through the buzz and swarm of a Mediterranean
day outside, with its pulsing heat and insect life. He raised his tied up leg onto a block of wood
with a couple of rusted scythes on it and watched it intently as the red stain spread slowly across
the bandage and then halted its steady progress as the effect of the leg being raised stopped the
blood from flowing. He tied another tourniquet around the thigh to better halt the flow. How
much time it would buy him he didn’t know – maybe a day, maybe a couple before the sticky
heat started turning the wound bad – but it at least gave him a break from the bleeding in which
he could make some plan. A plan that he could put into place assuming the distant voices he
could hear drifting in the wind didn’t burst through the doors any moment; then the game would
simply be up.
He fished in his bag for his mobile phone and found it buried in a pocket near the bottom. As he
pulled it out, it occurred to him that he hadn’t used it for ten months and had only charged it once
or twice during that time, a kind of precautionary measure that he’d gotten out of the habit of
doing. How long had it been since he’d last plugged it in at a cheap hotel? Three, four, five
months? He wasn’t sure but he pressed the power button and held it down, disappointed to be
resorting to using the phone at all, but desperate to do so. Light flashed across the screen and the
start-up tune sang out across the quiet day; “Shit!” he gasped and tried to smother the phone with
his hands to cover the noise but it still sounded like a church bell ringing out through the silence.
Anybody nearby, someone scouting around outside, would certainly have heard it.
He held his breath, for whatever strange reason, as the peace around had already been shattered,
and waited. The phone fired up, with the battery icon already flashing to let him know that it
would shut down imminently. He was trying to decide whether to call or send a message, which
would use less power and have more chance of success, when he remembered that he hadn’t
actually paid the bill for nearly a year, at least he hadn’t actively done so; maybe it was a direct
debit but he couldn’t remember if he paid it himself or if it had been taken care of by the firm. If
it were the latter, they would surely have stopped that long ago and the phone would be useless; if
he paid himself, there was a chance the bank had just kept that rolling. Of course, there is also a
chance that, having disappeared off the face of the earth for a year, they may have investigated
the irregularities, or rather inactivity, in his account and frozen the whole thing. His only hope at
this point is that Jake told them to keep it open, convinced them that as a missing person Mark
might need the funds if he were ever in a jam.
It then crossed his mind that maybe the subscription had run out and the phone company had shut
off the account when the year was up. The next thought to cross his mind was that all this
thinking wasn’t really getting him anywhere and he’d better just make the damned call if he were
to have any hope, the battery would last a few minutes at best and if he didn’t make the call his
leg might not last much longer.
Call Jake, that was the best idea. However, there was always that creeping fear that he was drunk
or dead, or at least dead to the world, and this phone call was a one-shot thing. The battery light
was flashing more urgently.
He pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket punched the numbers, hoping not to hear
some foreign voice telling him the number was not recognized or his phone was out of credit. He
waited. The call went through and the phone at the other end began to ring. When it was picked
up at the other end, he managed to say just a few words before it cut out but it could be enough,
she might find him somehow because she was resourceful like that. He managed to feel a brief
and deep sense of regret that he had now really involved her in his trip. The walls then closed in
around him and he passed out again, dropping the useless phone by his side.
It was now a race against time. Either she found him first and the rules of the game had changed.
Or someone else followed the trail of blood to the barn and then the game would really be up. It
would be all over.
Back to contents
The Isle of Man, North-West of England
May 14th – Day 30
The ferry is pulling away from the mainland; it’s only an hour and I’ll be on the other side, in a
place where I have never really wanted to visit and am not sure why I’ve cycled a month to get to
now. Perhaps I should start at the beginning. The beginning was also an end; the end of the lives
of the three people who I loved most in this world…
The typical thing to say would be that Jenny was a terrible driver and I blame myself for letting
her take the kids in the car. Or that the car had something minor wrong with it that caused the
accident and I could have easily fixed it. Or that the guy in the other car was a drunk, speeding
along the wrong side of the road, who killed my wife and kids and spent a year in jail then
walked free. Or that there was ice on the road. I wish one of those things was true. It would give
me someone or something to blame, even if it meant blaming myself. Unfortunately, that isn’t the
case; it was a clear day, she was a good driver and both cars were in good condition. Or at least
they were before they were discovered on the country lane, one wrapped around a tree with a
middle aged man slumped dead over the wheel and the other on its roof with my wife and son
My daughter, Olivia, the youngest, was a fighter and lived three hours while they cut her from the
car and took her to hospital. She died just before I arrived.
You never want to get that phone call. It’s obvious that something is wrong from the moment you
pick up. The voice on the other end of the line doesn’t speak immediately, they need a moment to
collect themselves and work out how they are going to start speaking. That moment of silence
and uncertainty should fill you with fear. There is no good news after a silence like that.
“Mr. Mark Collison?” she asked me. Then there was something about a crash and a hospital and
the next thing I knew I was sitting in a beige room, drinking tea and asking if I could see my
daughter’s body one last time. There was a lady who spoke in the softest most understanding
tones I have ever heard; I loved her on the one hand for being there for me when nobody else
was, and respected her for doing this job hundreds of times with other grieving relatives, but, on
the other hand, I couldn’t stand that soft, understanding tone. It sounded the way a parent
explains to a child the death of a beloved family goldfish.
That was the start of a year of people talking to me in that voice. Sympathy and understanding
towards something they could not hope to understand and for which sympathy would not be a
cure. First there were the hospital counselors; all I wanted to do was get in the car and go home
but, as I looked at the battered little body of my daughter, Olivia, and someone touched me ever
so tenderly on the shoulder and said, “Would you like to speak to someone?”, I just didn’t know
how to say “No”.
I was lead to the beige room and the counselor seemed to be trying to relax and feel at ease much
more than was necessary; she told me that everything I was feeling as alright, there were no
wrong feelings. I told her there were no feelings at all right now and she said that was all right
too. Everything was all right and everything was going to be all right and I was going to be all
right. We had tea and biscuits and I felt ungrateful for not falling at her feet and thanking her for
being brave enough to do a job where this kind of conversation was the daily grind but, at the
same time, I was suspicious that she was going through the motions and that when she was done
with me there would be another poor soul not quite ready to grieve who would have a clean cup
and fresh biscuits and the same validation of whatever it was they felt.
Then, after the counsellors, came the same sympathy and unbearable understanding from family,
friends, employers, colleagues, people I bumped into in the street. I hadn’t spoken to my mother
more than once a month for several years and suddenly my days were punctuated by her regular
pleasant calls checking if I was doing okay and if I needed anything; whether I did or not, she’d
bring me something round anyway, like a nice pie or a bag of fruit. The world’s answer to illness
and grief is a good meal, a lovely cup of tea and a bag of grapes.
My mother became the leading figure within a well-organised and wholly unwanted network of
aunts and female acquaintances who just wanted to make sure that I was fed well.
That is not to say that men got it right either; if the women were suffocating and over-concerned,
most men were uncomfortably manly about the whole thing. They’d look into some middle
distance, carefully not making eye contact, and put on a mock working class accent and say
“You’ll be right, lad” or “I feel for you, son” or “You’ll pull through, fella”. I was even once
treated to “Worse things happen at sea, mate” and I remember wondering what could have
happened, even in the days of rum, sodomy and the lash, that might have even been close. My
wife, in her mid-thirties, had snapped her neck and spine. My son, William, aged 10, had been
crushed and battered beyond recognition. My daughter, aged 6, fought to the end but the ribs that
had punctured her lungs hadn’t really given her a chance. What could have happened at sea?
Following these platitudes and pep-talks would be the mandatory pat on the back from a man, or
a nice big hug and then a wistful look from a woman, and it would be all over until the next
person took pity upon me. And, through it all, I just couldn’t bring myself to feel their grief. No
matter how much I tried, I couldn’t break down like they wanted me to; I couldn’t stop coping
and performing at work, I couldn’t stop feeding myself properly and dressing myself in the
morning. I wanted to, believe me I did, but I just couldn’t. I wasn’t ready to grieve and I wasn’t
ready for sympathy. So, I did what I needed to do; I stopped answering the phone, stopped
answering the door, stopped answering people’s probing questions over cups of tea at work and I
isolated. I worked and I isolated. I did that for a long time.
But don’t give up on me yet. This isn’t a story about the loneliness of my tortured soul. It isn’t the
story of someone who has always been unable to feel; there have been times in my life when I
have burnt with passion and cried with laughter. I just stopped being able to feel the moment that
car crashed and this is the story of how I’m learning to let go of it and how I ended up here on a
dingy ferry, travelling to an island I have never previously cared about seeing, with no view as
the sea breeze has whipped up so much spray that I can’t see further than fifty yards out to sea.
Isle of Man
May 15th – Day 31
I was brought here by my suffering calves and leg muscles, after a month of hard cycling. I have
ridden roughly along the route of the M1, up towards the north, and then into the Yorkshire Dales
and the Lake District, soggy and damp in early-May. I passed Scafell Pike and Skiddaw on early
mornings after leaving hostels just after dawn and was lucky enough to see them both in that rare
state at this time of the year when the mornings mists have not obscured the view. I cycled around
Derwent Water and picnicked on the shore near Keswick, only to have my luck run out that day
and get soaked to the skin by a sudden shower that turned into a downpour which, in turn,
became a torrent. I gritted my teeth and somehow made my way into the wind down to the village
and gave up for the day.
I had left my home intending to in the Midlands intending to travel south but a wrong turn had
sent me in the opposite direction. I decided just to go with it and then I got this romantic vision
that Yorkshire and Cumbria were a cyclist’s paradise, full of rugged beauty and untamed wilds,
where you could wind along tracks bordered on one side by quaintly coped hedges and to the
other side would be nothing but expansive beauty. I was not wrong; it is all of these things and
It is a cyclist’s paradise; just not a cyclist like myself who had never really ridden bike until a
month ago, who is pulling a heavy trailer and who hasn’t done any real exercise for a long time. I
have spent the last two weeks gritting my teeth and swearing out loud as I fought my way up hills
that threatened to break me and often did. And the winding country lanes of the Lake District are
beautiful; they are just also full of rocks and stones that turn over the trailer and often turn over
the bike as well. I was bloodied and bruised more in that wilderness than I care to remember.
Then, once I had seen enough and hurt myself enough, I had to go somewhere else. When you
have no set plan ‘somewhere else’ is usually a place that presets itself to you in a moment. A brief
scan of the OS map showed me that the Isle of Man was a boat ride away from Lancaster. I had
always been intrigued by the strange multi-limbed crest but had thought the island lay further
north, off the coast of Scotland. Finding out that it was so close meant that it was an opportunity I
I liked Mann from the first moment I arrived. There was a quirky difference about it and Britain. I
found out from the guide book that it has been ruled by the Scots and the English time and again
but has come out of it all self-governing and somehow itself. It seems somehow timeless, even
the Manx name Ellan Vannin conjures up images of druids and a Gaelic past of chants and
ceremonies among the standing stones.
When I left home to start my trip, I did so with very little planning. I just packed a bag and left
the house, intending not to return for a long while. I was not thinking about being a tourist, only
about escape, so it did not occur to me that I would need a guide book to make it around Britain. I
thought common sense would see me right but I discovered, after a few days, that I was moving
around but seemed to be missing all the sights and sounds that people see when they take a trip.
Some clever hostel owner suggested a Lonely Planet and I felt pretty damned lonely, so I went
out the next day and discovered from the Great Britain guide book that I had ridden past a dozen
places of interest and stayed in all the hostels that were certainly not recommended to be of any
interest at all. Tourist honey-pot sights and quaint places to stay are not the reason I’m on the
road, they just make the monotony of movement seem to have some purpose as one day melds
Arriving in Mann I opened the book and was regaled with stories of King Arthur, Lancelot, cat
breeds, motorcycle races and strange myths of obscure origin. I felt the soul of the place in
everything. And it was green and pleasant and windy and very real. I liked it a lot. But what
struck me most was the story of a rock called Tynwald Hill where new laws are passed each year,
following an Old Norse custom. I was so captured by the idea that I made my way there and
stood alone in the wind and felt a sudden power pulse through me that I could change something
in this place. I looked out across the rolling hills with their jagged rock punctures and raised my
voice as loudly as I could to proclaim the following new and binding laws, which were what
came to my mind at the time:
1. All motorists will from now on be secondary to cyclists in all circumstances. They will never
be permitted to get as close behind as they can and honk their horns to scare the living daylights
out of said cyclists.
2. All matters of state will now be dealt with by people standing on rocks and shouting, rather
than in expensive and pompous government buildings.
3. Nobody will die without prior warning, to stop loved ones from having to experience the
crushing blow of sudden, unbelievable loss.
4. Life will be a lot simpler. In all ways. Whatever that really means.
It probably wasn’t my best effort but it was from the heart and was carried around the world by a
vicious gale. I felt I had changed something.
I want to tell you about the crushing blow of sudden unbelievable grief, if you can call it grief. I
loved my wife and kids, I may say that again and again as I go along, but I didn’t really know it
at the time. I came home and said “Hello” to them every day, lavished some kisses upon them
along with and pick-ups and swings around the room, then I was off again, doing something. I
was busy, really busy. I was working, like dads do - winning bread, putting food on the table. I
was a modern hunter-gatherer in a nice suit with a flashy open-necked shirt because ties had gone
out some time ago. I wore a watch that cost enough to justify wearing it all the time even though I
had a clock on every wall in the office, one on the desk, one on the computer and on the car
dashboard. I doubt I looked at the watch more than a dozen times, it meant pulling up my sleeve
to do so.
I looked good in that watch; I looked exactly like everyone else at Mercer and Chase Investment
Bankers. I looked hungry and solid and ready to make you rich. The company fitted me like a
glass slipper left on the steps after a ball. It fitted me because I worked out early on exactly what
was expected of me when, after a few unsuccessful months of attempting to actually get ahead
through doing work, I discovered that actual performance was secondary when trying to build a
career. What really mattered was back-slapping, kissing the right arses and the all important
office nadsat and double-speak. I became an expert in saying inane things like scrum meeting,
algorithms, operational risk, collateral damage, hot-desking, the close of play, clutch, M A, team
bonding, brass tacks and year-on-year. I became a team player. Everyone had to be a team player;
even the super-arrogant, competitive, squash-playing public school boys, who had no social
skills, were team players in the office. We all wanted to be in a team and we all loved our team
members like American frat buddies or a platoon of GI soldiers storming Omaha Beach; it was an
unbreakable bond of brotherly love on the surface. Underneath I guess most of them felt the way
I did - that everyone else was a crawling, amoral malignant who would happily offer up a pound
of flesh to get that vital promotion that would take him one step closer to the holy grail of a
partnership with the firm.
I also found out that the key to managing people and being managed was understanding that no
decision you make, or is made for you, will have any real lasting effect, as it will be superseded
by a future contradictory decision before the results are clear anyway. The key was simply to look
very decisive and serious when passing orders on to others and to assume a look as if those above
me were reasonable and decisive as they passed down orders which would ultimately change
nothing. I realized that such companies run simply on enthusiasm and belief and that these two
things must be oozed in all situations and at all times; in meetings, at company dinners and golf
events, at hirings and firings, it was all about belief and enthusiasm and I grew to absolutely love
it. I knew it was absurd and nothing more than a smoke and mirrors scam to keep us all gainfully
employed, and to keep the money floating around in the ocean, but I loved it all the same. It was
10 hours of every day I lived from the moment I met Jenny. So, when she was gone, and the kids,
it seemed like the only thing I knew how to do and I didn’t want to spend those ten hours a day
alone with my thoughts - anything but with my thoughts.
I threw myself into work three days after the joint funeral. I was good. I had no distractions at
home to weigh me down and one thing in life to concentrate on that took up enough of my mind
to block out the inevitable thoughts that would stealthily creep up on me if I didn’t keep my
guard up. I stopped just doing enough back-slapping and box ticking to look good and I got
aggressive. I started chasing clients, I stopped taking no for an answer and I certainly didn’t have
to deal with people questioning a single thing I did. The aura of a workaholic widower hung over
me like a protective veil and scared the living daylights out of anyone who may have questioned
my judgment or my decisions. I became untouchable as people began to fear that speaking out
against me would have been viewed as tactless or, worst of all, could have led to some kind of
disciplinary measures should I take offence. The creeping malignants who had previously been
behind me only to stab me in the back were now powerless in the face of the protective cloak of
mourning that I wore over my stay-pressed suit and shiny but impotent timepiece. I was
I’m not disgusted by myself. It probably saved my life. Until you have watched three coffins
lowered into the ground, one after the other, and then slept alone in an empty house that had once
been filled with the sound of soft snores and tiny feet going to the toilet in the middle of the
night, you’ll never know how much I needed to work. I was probably a monster, I make no
excuses; I made more money in the five months after they passed than I had made in any year
before. I got a conditional promotion and an under-the-table bonus that was so heavy it could
have pulled my arm off. And, make no mistake, it is a cut-throat business, which meant I was
cutting throats. However, I don’t remember a thing about it; my recollection of that time is
waking up every morning, shaving and deciding once again not to go with a tie and then, eighteen
hours later, passing out hoping for swift rest, usually aided by pills or stiff drink. The bit in the
middle is nothing more than a blur filled with enthusiastic clean-shaven faces and office speak. I
had clutch. I had bite. I had them by the balls… just as long as I kept my mind from ever
May 17th- Day 33
I had a reputation for being fearless in the meeting room, with clients or colleagues. When you
know it is just a game it is easy to play hard. Shirt sleeves up, pace around the room, raise the
voice a few notches, fist into your open palm now and again to emphasize a point, make a joke at
someone else’s expense if they challenge anything you say. It was easy. I was the same on the
squash court or the golf course, balls out the whole time, death or glory on every single shot. It’s
all just a game. And reputations get around; everyone knew that Mark didn’t mess around and
that he got results; he won big or he went down hard but he was always fearless.
But meetings and golf are not the real world. They are not Liverpool at 9pm on a Friday night
when you’ve got lost and suddenly found yourself in a bad neighbourhood wearing Lycra and
riding an expensive bike slowed down by a trailer. That was yesterday.
I’d stayed a few days in Mann. At one point I’d thought about staying there longer but then I
realised that if I stopped moving I was afraid of what would happen to me. Luckily, the novelty
of that little island wore off enough to let me escape and I took the ferry back to Liverpool. I had
a choice of going back north or travelling all the way to Dublin but I know I’m generally headed
south right now, or at least I should start heading that way after my month going north. Going
north was never the plan, it just happened that way. One wrong turn and I just kept going. When
all you’ve got is time it doesn’t really matter too much if you take a wrong turn now and again.
Unless the wrong turn is in a big city at night.
I jumped the ferry to Liverpool and got in at 8pm. I got straight on the bike and decided to find a
place to stay, somewhere to the south of the city. Late afternoon on Friday and thousands of
people are moving on the roads, into the city, out of the city, home from work or into town for the
clubs and pubs and theatres that will be heaving on a warm May evening. The week has finished
and there is the unknown promise of another weekend ahead. People surviving Monday to
Friday’s grind to get to this part of the week when the rush to get out and relax or simply get
home and relax really begins.
They all knew where they were going but I’d only been to the city on business a couple of times
and had been driven to a hotel and left again straight away. I was engulfed in fumes and
surrounded by clouded, incessant noise; the road had been heated all day by a sudden burst of
spring sunshine and the effect was something like a cauldron of chaos. Cars were cutting into the
bus lanes, buses were cutting into the bike lanes, couriers were weaving in and out. And there
was me, pedaling slowly with an erratic trailer in the middle of all of this.
I made a decision: get off this main road before you get torn apart under the wheels of a bus and
head south. At the next signpost south, which looked like a road with less ‘death potential’, I
turned. 25 minutes later I was lost.
I’ve generally got a pretty good sense of direction; it’s all about visualization, you just imagine a
point to which you are heading and think where it is in relation to you. Keep yourself as the
central point of the compass. However, things got turned around. The magnets changed. I got off
the main road and was trying to take some ill-conceived short cuts, keeping my target point in
mind. But roads started to bend and I lost the signposts south when I left the main drag, all the
signs just became street names and obscure districts I had never heard of. I just kept going.
Usually when this kind of thing happens in the car, you just keep following your instincts until
you get it right. And if all else fails, there is GPS. I had one in my bag, so I stopped and hooked it
up to the bike, programmed in Chester and followed the route avoiding main roads.
Unfortunately, GPS does not have an ‘avoiding sketchy neighbourhoods’ feature and it soon
began leading me down roads that were getting just a bit narrower and a bit darker as night began
to draw in. There was more broken glass, more boarded up buildings and more people began to
stare at me. I didn’t fit in and people were noticing.
After a while, I’d turn the bike around and try to make for another, less worrying, route out of
town. This started to confuse the GPS and, no matter how much I hoped to find a nice leafy
suburb to make my way through, the places just looked worse and worse. I’m sure Liverpool is a
beautiful and vibrant city, and I’ve heard it is full of culture and thriving with life, but the part of
the city I’d ended up in was nothing other than a total shithole and a proliferation of crack dens
and smashed up shops. Night was closing in and I knew that no matter where else I went, I
shouldn’t stay here. I had to make a decision. I had always been good at decisions; I lived for
tough decisions and the consequences that other people had to face when I made them. Balls or
glory, I knew that there was only one thing to do, go forward and go hard.
Burnt out cars, abandoned railway buildings; it wasn’t really my kind of area. The people had
hoodies and oversized jeans that hung down at the back with fat trainers and flat-peaked caps.
They were dressed like American rap stars; they were white, Asian, black and mixtures of them
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