SHERI NEWTON

Of all the shifts I have to work, this has to be the one I hate the most. I can handle starting early in the morning and working through the day, I don't mind starting in the afternoon and working through the evening, but this I can't stand - sat here from one in the morning until nine. It's not too bad at weekends because there's usually plenty going on, but on mid-week days like today the time drags. There's no comparison, this is definitely the worst shift, and today it's even worse than usual. There are usually always two of us in on lates but Stefan called in sick so I've been sat here on my own for seven and a half hours. This morning there's been nothing to do and hardly anything to see. Between two and three o'clock the pubs and clubs were clearing out so there was some activity on the streets for a while, but after that everything went quiet until around seven-thirty. That's when the daily crowds of commuters started to arrive and that was when I had to start paying attention to the screens again. This job is all backwards - I want to be busy at the start of my shift, not at the end of it when I'm too tired to concentrate. By seven-thirty my eyes are starting to go. Okay, so the work's not physically tiring, but sitting here in front of seventeen screens watching CCTV footage of a shopping centre, an office block and the surrounding streets is enough to put anyone to sleep. Still, as I have to keep reminding myself, it pays the bills. Just about. It's easy money really. I don't have to do anything much. Even if I see something suspicious all I have to do is call the police or centre security. They do all the dirty work. I just sit up here and watch them.

Like I said, at the weekend there's usually enough activity in town to keep me busy, but this has been by far the worst day of the worst shift. Very few people are out and about on Monday night and even fewer are still around in the early hours of Tuesday morning. I've seen absolutely nothing this morning. I watched a drunk get arrested by the police in the high street about two hours ago but since then nothing's happened. The only screen I've watched with any interest is the handheld TV that I brought in with me because I knew it was going to be like this.

It's just after eight now.

Here we go, first sign of trouble for the day.

The area the cameras cover includes all the public areas of the shopping centre, the access roads, the main entrances and the reception area in the office block. There's a driver making a delivery around the back of one of the electrical superstores. He's just fallen out of the cab of his truck, clumsy sod. Bloody hell, what's wrong with him? He must be drunk. Bloody idiot, he can't even get up. Christ, how can these people let themselves get in such a state and then get behind the wheel? Don't they have a conscience? I think they should be made to... Hold on, he's trying to pick himself up again. He's grabbing at his throat like he's choking on something. Damn, I can't see anyone else around down there to help. I've got a direct line to the loading bay. I'll try and get someone to go and see him... Come on, someone pick up. The line's ringing out but no-one's answering. I can't see whether this bloke's been attacked by someone else in the truck or whether he's ill or... Hang on. Wait a minute. There's someone else behind him in the shadows. Now they're coming out into the open. They must have heard him. Bloody hell, there's something wrong with them too. This person can hardly stand. He's grabbing at his throat as well.

Will someone please answer the bloody phone.

Shit, on screen seven one of the cleaners working outside the main department store has just collapsed. What the hell is going on here? The two screens I'm watching are showing feeds from cameras at opposite ends of the complex. I thought it might have been fumes or something else in the air doing this, but how could the same thing affect three people so far apart, at the same time?

Wait, there's more...

Camera twelve is fixed on the public walkway between the music store and the supermarket. Oh Jesus, what the hell is happening now? I think that's Jim Runton, the assistant manager of the supermarket. He's down on his hands and knees in the middle of the walkway. It looks like he's throwing up. It looks too dark to be vomit. Could that be blood?

No-one's answering this damn telephone. I'll have to try one of the emergency lines linked direct to the police.

There's Mark Prentiss the head of security now. He's running back towards the offices. He might know what's going on. Oh no. Christ, now he's slowing down. He's not going to make it back here. Bloody hell, his legs just went from under him. He's gone down like the others.

What the hell is causing this?

There's no answer on the emergency phone either. There should always be someone there to answer the emergency phone. Someone has to be there. I'll try and get one of the security team on their radio. One of them will answer me...

The truck driver around the back of the superstore isn't moving now. He's just lying there, face down on the tarmac at the side of his truck. It looks like he's dead but he can't be, can he? The other person near him isn't moving either.

Still no answer. I can't get any response.

The cleaner outside the department store has stopped moving too.

All I can hear is static on the radios.

Jim Runton's body has been spasming and shaking since I first saw him but now he's still as well. Mark Prentiss is flat on his back and he's not moving either. There's a pool of blood or vomit around his face.

I can move camera fifteen. That's the camera which covers the main entrance and the pedestrian approach. Using the controls I can turn it through almost a full circle. There should be crowds of people moving towards the mall from the station now. I'll try and get a better view and see if anything's happening outside... Jesus Christ, I can't believe what I'm seeing here. There are bodies all over the place. There are dead bodies all over the bloody place. The streets outside are covered with them. Hundreds upon hundreds of them. It's like they've all just fallen where they were standing...

I've got to get out of here.

Nothing's moving on any of the screens now.

Sheri Newton got up from her seat at the control desk and ran out into the small security office immediately behind the observation room where she'd spent the last eight hours. She found the lifeless body of Jason Reynolds (her colleague who had been due to take over from her in twenty-five minutes time) sprawled across the cold linoleum floor in front of her, his frozen face and wild, frightened eyes staring hopelessly past her and into space. Further down the corridor a dead security guard was slumped in a half-open doorway. She stepped over the body on the ground, tripping on an outstretched leg, and ran through the silent building until she was out on the street.

Overcome by the disorientating fear and shock of what she had seen and was continuing to see, Sheri fell back against the nearest wall and slid down to the ground. For more than an hour she remained there, fixed to the spot in terrified disbelief, as frozen and still as the countless corpses lying around her.

SONYA FARLEY

Her pregnant belly wedged tight behind the steering wheel of her car, Sonya Farley stared at the never-ending queue of traffic stretching out in front of her and yawned. This was the seventh time in nine weeks that she'd driven this nightmare journey for Christian. Generally she didn't mind - Chris worked hard and he was doing all he could to get everything ready for the arrival of their first child. It wasn't really his fault that he'd been needed in the firm's Scottish office while the papers and designs he'd been working on at home were needed in the central branch. He'd put hours and hours of effort, commitment and concentration into each design and she understood completely why he wasn't prepared to trust their delivery to some two-bit courier firm - after all, there were two vital contracts at stake here. But regardless of the reasons why and the logical explanations for her being stuck out on the road for hours on end, today those explanations offered little comfort. At this stage of their pregnancies, Sonya thought, all of her friends were at home with their feet up, resting and getting ready for what was about to happen. And where was she? Going nowhere fast in the middle lane of one of the busiest motorways in the country during the peak of the morning rush hour. And where did she want to be? Just about anywhere else.

Focus on tomorrow night, she told herself. Tomorrow night Chris would be coming home and they'd finally be able to spend some time together. It would probably be their last chance for a while. They'd planned to go out for a meal and to see a movie. The couple were well aware of the massive upheaval and change they were about to experience in their lives and they both fully realised the importance of making the most of the time they had left before the baby came. The last few weeks had been a struggle, but Sonya could see things getting easier for a time before the birth. A nice warm bath and an early night tonight, she thought, would be just what she needed to get herself ready for tomorrow. She'd missed Chris. She hated it when he wasn't there, especially now at this late stage of her pregnancy. She couldn't wait to see him again.

Something was happening up ahead.

Struggling to shuffle in her seat and move her cumbersome bulk while still keeping control of the car, Sonya peered into the near distance where she could see movement in sudden, unexpected directions. Her heart sank. That was all she needed. She was a couple of miles away from the nearest motorway exit. An accident now would most probably add hours to her journey. She'd been joking with Chris on the phone last night that if he kept making her do this drive she'd end up giving birth in the back of the car on the hard shoulder. The idea didn't seem so funny now...

Whatever it was that was happening, it was quickly getting worse. Sonya could see the sudden red flashes of the lights of countless hastily applied brakes, burning brightly through the grey gloom of the early morning. Even over the sound of her own car's engine and the radio station she was listening to she could hear strained mechanical whines and squeals as drivers struggled to control their cars. Almost immediately the screaming brakes were replaced with grinding thuds and heavy groans and thumps as vehicle after vehicle after vehicle slammed and crashed into the back of the one in front, literally hundreds of them quickly forming a vast tangled carpet of twisted, wrecked metal along the entire visible length of the motorway.

She had no time to react. It was getting closer now. There was no obvious way to avoid the carnage. Now it was starting to happen all around her.

Forced to slam on her own brakes as the vehicles immediately ahead of her lurched to a sickening halt, Sonya braced herself for impact. She didn't know what she was going to hit, what was going to hit her or even from which direction the first impact would come. All around her every vehicle seemed to be losing control. Just ahead, in the rapidly disappearing gap between the front of her car and the huge pile up which filled the road, cars, vans and lorries were swerving and crisscrossing the carriageway as if their drivers had just given up and stopped trying to steer them. The first collision she felt came from the right as a solid four-wheel drive vehicle smashed into the passenger door behind her, the force of the shunt sending her car spinning round through almost one hundred and eighty degrees so that she found herself facing away from her original direction of travel. Now head on to the rest of the traffic, Sonya's shock and surprise gave way to utter disbelief and abject fear.

An expensive executive's car was heading straight for her. For a few short seconds (which felt like painfully long minutes) Sonya watched the driver of the car thrashing about wildly. He was clawing at his neck with one hand, scratching and scraping at it desperately as he struggled unsuccessfully to hold onto the steering wheel with the other. His face was red and his eyes wide with pain. He was choking. Distracted as the car was rocked again by a collision from the left, she turned and looked out through her passenger window. A tanker had smashed into a van which had, in turn, smashed into her. The driver of the van had been hurled through his windscreen and now lay sprawled face down over the crumpled bonnet of his vehicle. His bloodied head slammed down onto the battered metal just a short distance from where she sat. She looked away in disgust and caught a glimpse of the tanker driver's face. The middle-aged man's face was pressed hard against the shattered glass of his side window, frozen in an expression of terrified agony. Dark red blood dribbled freely down his chin, contrasting starkly with the rest of his blanched white face. The executive's car ploughed into Sonya at speed, sending her flying back in her seat and then lurching forward awkwardly. Consumed by a sudden wave of nauseating pain as her distended belly and her baby were momentarily crushed again, she briefly lost consciousness.

In the few minutes that Sonya was unconscious the world around her changed almost beyond all recognition. She slowly woke and cautiously half-opened her eyes. Slumped heavily forward with her face pressed hard against the steering wheel she pushed herself upright, struggling for a moment with the weight of her unborn child. Her own safety was of no concern as, for a few seconds longer, she remained still and closed her eyes again, running her hands over her tender belly until she was sure she had felt the reassuring movements of the baby inside. Her split-second feelings of relief and elation were immediately forgotten when she lifted her head again and looked around.

Apart from the occasional hissing jet of steam rising up into the morning air and smoke and flame from numerous burning vehicles, the world was completely silent and still. Nothing moved. Where she had expected to hear voices and cries for help there was nothing.

Sonya instinctively tried to open the door to get out of her wrecked car. Another crashed car to her right, however, had wedged it shut and she was unable to force it open any more than just a couple of centimetres. The van which had collided with her on the other side prevented her from opening the passenger door. The sunroof seemed the only safe escape route. Suddenly freezing cold and shaking with shock and nervous fear she turned the key in the ignition far enough for her to be able to use the electrics of her disabled car. She lifted a trembling hand and operated the control which opened the sunroof. The sudden, jerking noise sounded disproportionately loud in the oppressively silent vacuum of the grey morning. The tinted window above her slid open before stopping with a heavy thud. Slowly lifting herself up onto her clumsy, unsteady feet she guided her head and shoulders out through the restrictive rectangular opening. She cautiously stood upright on her seat and waited for a moment and wriggled her toes, water retention having swollen her tired feet and ankles. She lifted her arms out of the car and then eased and squeezed her pregnant stomach through the rubber-lined gap. Her arms weak and heavy with nerves, she put the palms of her hands flat on the roof of the car and pushed herself up and out. A few seconds of grunting and straining and she had moved far enough to be able to sit on top of her wrecked vehicle. For a while she just sat there in stunned disbelief and surveyed the silent devastation around her. The carnage seemed endless and without any apparent reason.

The motorway around her was dead in both directions. Whatever had happened had worked its way back along the wide road towards the city. Sonya carefully shuffled around so that she was looking back towards the collection of tall, imposing buildings which she had driven through little more than three-quarters of an hour earlier. For as far as she could see both ahead and behind her the traffic on the motorway was motionless. She deliberately tried not to look too closely at any of the wrecked vehicles although it was hard not to stare. Their drivers were dead. Some remained sat in their seats, frozen and lifeless. Some were burning. Others appeared to have suffered a more violent and inexplicable fate. Many twisted and bloodied corpses lay on the ground in the random gaps between the wrecks of their cars, tankers, lorries, bikes and vans.

A cold autumnal wind gusted along the length of the road, buffeting Sonya and prompting her to move from her exposed position. Overcome by the sheer scale and speed of what had happened, and unable to think about anything but the safety of her unborn child, she carefully pulled her feet out of the car and lowered herself down the windscreen and onto its crumpled bonnet. Using the wrecks of other vehicles she made her way over to the hard shoulder. Once there - where the road was a little clearer - she began to walk back towards the city. Dark thoughts occupied her mind with every step. What had happened to Chris in all of this...?

The city, more than four miles away, was dying too. She could clearly see the destruction, even from a distance. Random explosions ripped through buildings and fire began to quickly spread and take hold. She could see smoke pouring into the early morning air in thick, steady palls, leaving a dirty grey shroud hanging above the devastation.

With her swollen feet already sore, and with the delivery of her baby ominously close, Sonya dragged herself back towards the city in search of someone - anyone - who could help her.

HARRY STAYT

Given the choice, if they didn't need to get up and go to work, school or whatever each day, many people (probably most) would prefer to spend their mornings in bed. Harry Stayt is not like most people. Harry is up, washed, dressed and ready to run by eight o'clock at the very latest, usually much earlier. Harry does not enjoy being cooped up inside. By trade he is an outbound activities instructor, qualified to teach (amongst other things) rock climbing, abseiling, caving, rafting, canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking and hill walking. The summer holiday season has just ended and he has no lessons booked for the best part of the next three weeks. For the first time since early summer he now has some time to himself. Harry being Harry, he intends to spend much of this time undertaking those activities he is usually paid to teach.

Harry loves to run. He rents a small cottage in a village which is nestled on the banks of a large, man-made lake. A single, continuous road of some eight miles in length encircles the eservoir. This is his regular running route.

Harry sat on the front step of the cottage and, as he tied his laces, he looked out over the stunning view which greeted him. There could be no better way to start each day, he decided. The world was silent save for bird song, the rippling of the water on the surface of the lake and the occasional distant rumble of farm machinery and traffic. And if this was favourite time of day, he thought, then early autumn was his favourite time of year; a brief, quiet interlude after the busy summer holidays and before the winter snow and ice brought skiers, snowboarders and others to this area of the country. This morning was picture perfect. The sky above him was a cool, clear, uninterrupted blue and the lush greenery surrounding the scene was slowly beginning to turn. The endless shades of green which had been present all summer had now begun to disappear and had been replaced by yellows, oranges and brittle browns. And the air... Christ, even the air tasted good this morning. Cool but not too cold, dry but not parched and with a very gentle breeze which blew at him from across the surface of the water.

Around Harry the population of the small village were beginning their morning rituals and daily routines. As he stood up and closed his front door he looked round at the few small houses and shops nearby and smiled inwardly. What was it about human nature that made people so desperate to trap themselves into strict routines like this? Couldn't they function without this structure? He'd moved as far away as he could from the city to escape from the relentless boredom and monotonous familiarity of the rat-race but even here, out in the middle of nowhere, there was still too much focus on structure and conformity. All around him the same people were doing the same things at the same time of day as they always did. Mrs Rogers was opening the village store as she did every morning, putting the same goods out on display in exactly the same place as always. Her husband was taking the daily delivery of bread, milk and papers. The small school gates were being opened and children were beginning to arrive. It was happening everywhere he looked. In some ways he was no better, he had to admit. He often ran the same route at the same time of day and he always performed a well-rehearsed stretching and loosening exercise routine before going out. Although he wanted to believe otherwise, maybe he was as regimented as the rest of them.

Harry checked the door was locked, checked that he had tied his spare key onto the string of his shorts, checked and started his stopwatch and then began to run. He moved slowly at first, knowing that the first few footsteps were crucial. He'd had more than his fair share of avoidable injuries over the last couple of years and he knew now that it suited his body to start slowly and gradually build up to something resembling a decent speed. In any event, this was a simple training run and he didn't intend overdoing it.

He jogged out through the village, acknowledging a couple of bemused folk as he passed them, ran across the dam and then began his usual clockwise circuit of the lake. He'd run this route many times before and had adapted it over time. He knew that it was more sensible to run clockwise because the majority of the children who attended the school lived on farms and in other villages to the east. The timing of his run today had been carefully considered so that he wouldn't reach the busiest stretch of road until the school traffic had been and gone. He expected the rest of the route to be quiet. Although very busy at the height of summer, with the ending of the holiday season the lake and the village had become noticeably quieter. Harry didn't expect to see more than a handful of people while he was out.

That was how he liked it.

Three miles in and the village had long been lost in the distance behind him. A heavy canopy of trees bowed over the road, giving Harry shade from the strangely cool but still brilliant and relentless sunlight. The cover muffled and changed the sounds around him, blocking out the very distant rumble of village noise and traffic, making every birdsong and animal noise seem random and directionless, and seeming to amplify the constant thud, thud, thud of his trainers pounding the ground. His breathing also seemed inordinately loud although he knew it didn't matter if it was because there was no-one else nearby to hear him.

The peace and tranquillity was disturbed momentarily. A car engine (which could have been ahead or behind him and anywhere between half a mile and a mile and a half away) was abruptly and unexpectedly silenced. Harry then thought he heard the crackle and spit of splitting wood. It could have been anything, he quickly decided, but it was probably nothing. One of the local farmers working their land on the steep banks of the lake perhaps? He ran on regardless.

The lake was roughly quadrilateral in shape. He had already run along its longest side and had just followed a sharp bend in the road round to the right. He was now running along the second side which was less than half as long as the first. The dense forest of trees to his left, the grey tarmac ahead and the glare of the sun bouncing off the water's calm surface to his right were all that he could see. His foot scuffed against something unexpectedly and he looked down at his trainers to mind his footing over a particularly uneven stretch of road. For some reason the ground here was covered with debris. Slowing down but not stopping, he tripped and kicked his way through the tangled branches of a sapling that had been felled, its narrow trunk having been snapped near to its base. Something - a car or truck perhaps - looked to have collided with the young tree. There were huge, arc-shaped scars in the mud just past the trunk. The vehicle, it appeared, had been knocked off course and had gone off the road close to where he was now running. The dirt, leaves and stones which had been disturbed by the collision had been dragged across the track in a rough curve which stretched ominously all the way across the tarmac. To Harry's right was a steep bank which dropped down towards the water. The tyre marks ended suddenly. He knew what had happened before he had even seen the car.

Slowing down to walking pace, he cautiously approached the edge of the bank and peered over. Some five meters or so ahead and below him, wedged tightly between two sturdy trees, was the wreck of a small red car. No doubt the car which had made the noise he'd heard minutes earlier, it had been forced over onto one side by a moss-covered tree stump and had come to rest ungraciously with two wheels up in the air, still spinning slowly but about to stop. Panting with the effort of his run but still in full control, Harry carefully clambered down the bank towards the car, knowing that he had to help. He hadn't seen anyone else in the last half hour and chances were it would probably be at least as long again before anyone else passed here. It was down to him alone to try and help whoever it was who had been trapped in the crash. As he made his rapid descent it occurred to him that there didn't seem to be any obvious reason why the accident had happened. No other vehicle seemed to have been involved. Perhaps it was mechanical failure, he decided, or maybe something had happened to the driver? Either way it didn't matter now.

The driver's door had been wedged shut by the awkward angle at which the car had suddenly come to rest. The windscreen was shattered (it had been pierced by a sharp, thick and low-growing branch) and he cautiously pushed the remaining glass out of the way and peered into the vehicle. He was then able to see the body of the driver, and it was immediately apparent that the injuries they had sustained had been fatal. The same branch which had smashed the window had impaled the stocky, grey-haired man through the left shoulder and his neck had been snapped, presumably by the force of the impact. Jolted out of his seat by the sudden and violent crash, the man's mouth had smashed against the steering wheel. Blood, bone and shattered teeth dribbled down the corpse's chin. The appalling injuries suffered by the driver were so obvious and extreme that for a few seconds Harry didn't notice there was a passenger in the car. A woman of similar age to the man next to her, it was instantly clear that she was dead too. Harry looked deep into her lifeless face. The second corpse didn't seem to have suffered any of the physical traumas that the first had, but it too had trickles of dark blood running from its mouth. Perhaps this lady's injuries were internal? His stomach was strong and, having obtained numerous first aid qualifications as part of his outdoor activities training, he instinctively leant across and checked for a pulse. Nothing. Although her skin was still warm to the touch, it was clear that it was already too late and there was nothing he could do for her. He stepped back and stared into the car again. In contrast to the driver, the reason for the woman's death was far from obvious. Whatever had happened to her, her face bore an inexplicable expression of absolute fear and gut-wrenching agony.

Harry's options were limited. Did he stop with the bodies and wait for another motorist to pass (which would likely be some time) or should he try and get back to the village as quickly as he could to alert the authorities? Although harder, the second option was clearly the most sensible. The poor buggers in he car were beyond help and there was nothing to be gained from stopping with them. Harry quickly scrambled back up to the road, brushed himself down and then began to run again, continuing with his clockwise circuit of the lake.

What started as a gentle training run had suddenly become a painful struggle. As well as having to contend with the shock of what he had just discovered, Harry also now needed to get his body moving again. He may only have stopped running for a couple of minutes, but that had been more than long enough for his muscles to begin to seize and tighten. He was just over halfway along his circuit so it made sense for him to continue on in the same direction. Perhaps he'd come across some of the school traffic that he'd originally hoped to avoid, heading back home after dropping off children.

Harry forced himself to try and maintain a steady pace. He was tired and he knew that he didn't have enough energy to run faster - with more than three miles left to cover he knew that if he tried he'd probably end up walking most of the way back. At the same time, however, the furious, adrenaline-fuelled chemical reactions racing through his body were intent on making him pick up his speed. All he could see were the bodies he'd just found and all he could hear was the thump, thump, thump of his feet hitting the ground and his heavy, rasping breathing which seemed to be becoming harder, deeper and more desperate with each passing metre.

Finally another sound disturbed the uncomfortable silence and distracted him. He could hear a plane in the distance. He rounded another gentle corner at the bottom of the lake and began to run the relatively straight two and a half mile stretch of road that would lead him back into the village. The relentless sunlight flickered through the trees, blinding him intermittently with its brilliance and causing him to involuntarily screw his eyes shut. The run was getting harder. He was suddenly beginning to feel cold and the ends of his fingers and toes had begun to tingle. Had the temperature dropped or was it shock? He'd run this route many times before and he knew he was more than capable of completing the distance, but now he was beginning to doubt himself. And all the time the plane's engines were getting louder.

At the side of the road a twisting mountain stream tumbled down the hillside, disappeared under the road and trickled into the lake. That was Harry's two mile mark. If he pushed hard he knew that he could be home in less than fifteen minutes now, but it would take just about every last scrap of energy he had to do it. His legs were hurting. Christ, that plane was getting low and close...

When the noise from the plane became deafening and was so loud that he could feel it through the ground beneath his feet like an earthquake, Harry stopped running again. This plane sounded different. Apart from the sheer volume of the noise it was making, this didn't sound like one of the military jets that often flew down the valley or even one of the smaller civilian aircraft that frequently passed over. The aircraft was moving in the same direction as he was, coming from behind him and flying along the length of the lake towards the village. He could see it above the trees now and it was flying lower than any plane he'd seen around here before. The slope of the bank down to the lake was relatively gentle here. Breathing heavily he jogged down to the water's edge to watch.

The plane passed alongside him. It could have been no more than fifty meters from the surface of the lake and it was falling rapidly. As Harry watched in stunned disbelief its nose and starboard wing dropped slightly. The inevitable seemed to take an eternity to happen. Its rapid descent continued until the tip of the wing eventually clipped the water and somersaulted the plane forwards, flipping it over and over in mid-air and breaking it into several huge pieces which landed in the lake with a series of massive splashes, sending vast plumes of water shooting high into the air.

Harry didn't connect the two crashes he'd seen until he found a third. He discovered Kenneth Brent, the local postman, dead in the middle of the road next to his motor-scooter. Letters were blowing casually across the silent scene like leaves on the breeze.

By the time he arrived back at the village - exhausted, bewildered and terrified - he knew that something of vast and disastrous proportions had happened.

By the time he arrived back at the village the wreck of the plane had disappeared beneath the surface of the lake, leaving the water appearing calm and deceptively normal. By the time he arrived back at the village everyone else was dead.

JACOB FLYNN Part i

Jacob Flynn is serving a prison sentence for manslaughter. Like pretty much every other inmate, he will protest his innocence relentlessly to anyone who will listen. The fact of the matter is, however, that Flynn caused the death of a seventy-three year old gentleman through reckless driving. He will tell you that the old man was at fault as much as he was. He will give you any number of entirely plausible reasons why he feels his case was handled badly, and why the judge had something against him, and why his solicitor let him down, and how if it hadn't have been for the fact that he'd caught his lying bitch of a girlfriend in bed with his best friend then he wouldn't have been driving at almost twice the legal speed limit down a narrow residential road at just after two-thirty on a quiet Thursday afternoon in late November last year.

Whatever Flynn might tell you, the fact remains that he lost control of his car around a tight bend, mounted the pavement and mowed down Mr Eddie McDermott as he walked back to his house after a lunchtime drink with friends. The fact remains that his driving was the sole cause of Mr McDermott's untimely death, and in the eyes of the law he is being punished accordingly.

Flynn shares his small, rectangular cell with two other men, Suli Salman (minor drug trafficking offences and assault) and Roger Bewsey (corporate fraud). According to his own mental records, he has now been locked up for five months, three weeks and a day. It is just after eight o'clock in the morning and he has been awake for three hours.

I hate this place more with every second I have to spend here. I don't know how the rest of them can handle it in here. I still don't know how I'm going to handle it. Every morning I wake up and wish that I hadn't got into the car that day. Every morning I wish that I'd never found Elaine with that bastard Peters or that I'd never met the bitch in the first place. We'd only been together for just over a year, and look at how much it's cost me. I'll spend more time in here alone than we ever spent together. I know there's no point thinking like this but I can't help it. The hours in here are long and slow and I don't have anything else to do.

It's the stench that gets to me first. Even before I've opened my eyes I can smell the soulless, disinfected emptiness of this fucking place. Then I hear it - the relentless clattering noise from the scum in the cells around me. No matter what time it is it's never quiet in here. There's no escape. It never bloody stops. I keep my eyes closed for as long as I can but eventually I have to sit up and look around this concrete and metal hell.

I shouldn't be here. Maybe if I'd driven a different way that day or if I hadn't gone round to see her then I wouldn't be here now. I'd be out there where I should be. Because of that fucking slag I've lost everything, and I bet she bloody loves it. She's out there with him, sleeping with him in the bed that I helped pay for, wearing the clothes and the jewellery and the perfume that I bought for her. Bitch.

Bewsey is snoring again. He amazes me. I don't know how he does it. There's a man you'd have put money on cracking up by now. He's in his late fifties, he's overweight, has a stammer, gets picked on constantly by the mentally-challenged thugs in here and, as far as I'm aware, had never been in any trouble before he got himself wrapped up in the mess that eventually wound him up in here. Salman, who sleeps in the bunk above mine, on the other hand, is a cocky little bastard. He's only in here for another couple of weeks. He's in and out of these places all the time, has been for years. He'll be back in for another stretch before Bewsey or I get out.

The mornings are hard here. Some days there's work to do, but most of the time there's nothing. Most days we spend virtually all of the time sitting in here, locked up. That's when it really gets to me. I've got nothing in common with the rest of the shite in here. I've got nothing in common with the other two except the fact that we share this cell. I don't have anything to talk to them about. I don't even like them. They both irritate the hell out of me. Most of the time I don't have anything to do here but sit and think. Sometimes I wake up and I can't imagine that I'll make it through till the end of the day. I feel like that now. Tonight seems an eternity away. Next week feels like it will never come. And I have years of this to get through...

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