Chapter 1

Carl Henshawe

I was almost home by the time I knew that it had happened.

It was still early  -  about half-eight I think  -  and I'd been out of the house since just after four. Looking back I was glad I hadn't been home. It was bad enough seeing Sarah and Gemma lying there after it had happened to them. Christ, I wouldn't have coped seeing it get them both. I just couldn't have stood seeing them both suffer like that. I couldn't have done anything for either of them. It hurts too much to even think about it. Better that they were gone and it was over by the time I got home.

I'd been out on a maintenance call at Carter and Jameson's factory five miles north of Billhampton. I usually ended up going there once or twice a month, and usually in the middle of the night. The bastard that was in charge of the place was too tight to pay for new machinery and too bloody smart to get his own men repairing the system when he knew that he could call us out. Didn't matter what went wrong or when, he always got us out. He knew the maintenance contract better than I did.

I was six miles short of Northwich when I first realised that something was wrong. I'd stopped at the services to get a cup of coffee and something to eat and I was just coming off the motorway when the radio started playing up. Nothing unusual about that  -  the electric's in the van had a mind of their own  -  but this was different. One minute there was the usual music and talking, the next nothing but silence. Not even static. Just silence. I tried to tune in to a couple of other stations but I couldn't get anything.

Like an idiot I kept driving and trying to sort out the radio at the same time. I only had one eye on the road, and the sun kept flashing through the tops of the trees. The sky was clear and blue and the morning sun was huge and blinding. I wanted to get back home so I kept my foot down. I didn't see the bend in the road until I was half way round and I didn't see the other car until it was almost too late.

I slammed my foot on the brake when I saw it. It was a small mustard-yellow coloured car and its driver was obviously as distracted as I was. He was coming straight at me, and I had to yank the steering wheel hard to the right to avoid hitting him. I must have missed him by only a couple of feet.

There was something about the way the car was moving that didn't seem right. I slowed down and watched it in my rear view mirror. Instead of following the bend that I had just come round, it just kept going forward in a straight line, still going at the same speed. It left the road and smashed up the kerb. The passenger-side door scraped against the trunk of a heavy oak tree and then the car stopped dead when the centre of the bonnet wrapped itself around another tree trunk.

There was no-one else about. I stopped and then turned the van around in the road and drove back towards the crash. All I could think was the driver was going to blame the way I was driving and it would be his word against mine and Christ, if he took me to court he'd probably have a good case. I kept thinking that I was going to lose my job and that I'd have to explain what had happened to the boss and...and bloody hell, I didn't even stop to think that the other driver might be hurt until I saw him slumped over his steering wheel.

I stopped my car a few feet behind the crash and got out to help. My legs felt heavy  -  I didn't want to look but I knew that I had to. As I got closer I could see the full extent of the damage to the car. It had hit the tree at such a bloody speed that the bonnet was almost wrapped right around it.

I opened the driver's door (it was jammed shut and it took me a while to get it open). The driver looked about thirty-five years old, and I didn't need to touch him to know that he was dead. His face had been slammed hard against the steering wheel, crushing his nose. His dead eyes gazed up at me, giving me a cold stare which made me feel as if he was blaming me for what had just happened. Blood was pouring from what was left of his nose and from his mouth which hung wide open. It wasn't dripping; for the best part of a minute the thick crimson blood was literally pouring from the body and pooling on the floor around the dead man's feet.

I didn't have a fucking clue what to do. For a few seconds I just stood there like a bloody fool, first looking up and down the silent road and then staring at the jet of steam which was shooting up from the battered car's radiator and into the cold morning air. I felt sick to my stomach, and when the hissing eventually stopped all I could hear was the drip, drip, drip of blood. It had only been a couple of minutes since I'd eaten. I looked back at the body again and felt myself lose control of my stomach. I dropped down to my knees and threw up in the grass at the side of the road.

Once the nausea had passed I dragged myself up onto my feet and walked back to the van. I reached inside for the phone, realising that although there was nothing I could do for the poor bastard in the car, I had to do something. In a strange way it was easier knowing that he was dead. I could just tell the police that I'd been driving along and I'd found the car crashed into the tree. No-one needed to know that I'd been around when the accident took place.

The bloody phone wasn't working.

There I was, out in the countryside just outside a major town and I couldn't get a signal. I shook the phone, waved it in the air and even banged it against the side of the fucking van but I couldn't get rid of the 'No Service' message on the display. I wasn't thinking straight. I tried dialling 999 three or four times but I couldn't get anything. It didn't even ring out. The phone just kept bleeping 'unobtainable' in my ear.

So if no-one needed to know that I'd seen the crash, I found myself thinking, no-one needed to know that I'd been the one who found it. It sickens me now when I think back and remember that the next thing I did was climb back into the van with the intention of driving home. I decided that I'd call the police or someone from there and tell them that I'd seen an abandoned car at the side of the road. I didn't even need to tell them about the body. I guess that it must have been the effects of shock. I'm not usually such a spineless bastard.

I was in a daze, almost a trance. I climbed back into the van, started the engine and began to drive back towards town. I stared at the crashed car in the rear view mirror until it was out of sight, then I put my foot down on the accelerator.

There were a couple more bends in the road before it straightened and stretched out for a clear half mile ahead of me. I caught sight of another car in the near distance, and seeing that car made me give way to my mounting guilt and change my plans. I decided that I'd stop and tell the driver about what I'd seen. There's safety in numbers, I thought. I'd get them to come back with me to the crash and we'd report it to the police together. Everything would be okay.

I was wrong. As I got closer to the car I realised that it had stopped. I slowed down and pulled up alongside. The driver's seat was empty. There were three other people in the car and they were all dead  -  a mother in the front and her two dead children in the back. Their faces were screwed up with expressions of agony and panic. Their skin was pale grey and I could see on the body of the child nearest to me that there was a trickle of blood running from between its lips and down the side of its lifeless face. I kept the van moving slowly forward and saw that a couple of metres further down the road the body of the missing driver lay sprawled across the tarmac. I had to drive up onto the grass verge to avoid driving over him.

I was so fucking scared. I cried like a baby as I drove back towards home.

I can't be sure, but I must have seen another forty or fifty bodies by the time I'd made it back to Northwich. The streets were littered with the dead. It was bizarre  -  people just seemed to have fallen where they'd been standing. Whatever they'd been doing, wherever they'd been going, they'd just dropped.

The situation was so unexpected and inexplicable that it was only at that point that I thought about the safety of my family. I put my foot down flat on the accelerator and was outside my house in seconds. I jumped out of the van and ran to the door. My hands were shaking and I couldn't get the key in the lock. Eventually I opened it and immediately wished that I hadn't. The house was silent.

I ran up to the bedroom and that's where I found them both. Sarah and our beautiful little girl both dead. Gemma's face was frozen in the middle of a silent scream and there was blood all around her mouth and on Sarah's white night dress and the sheets. They were both still warm and I shook them and screamed at them to wake up and talk to me. Sarah looked terrified. I tried to close her frightened eyes to make believe she was just sleeping but I couldn't. They wouldn't stay shut.

I couldn't stand to leave them but I couldn't stand to stay there either. I had to get out. I put Gemma into bed with her mum, kissed them both goodbye and pulled the sheets up over their heads. I left the house, locked the door behind me and then walked.

I spent hours stepping through the bodies just shouting out for help.


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