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Nightmare

Chapter One

 

Monday mornings come and go, each introducing a new week and each proving an enemy to the person suffering from boring routine.  

John Sparkes was such a person. Monday meant work and Monday meant returning to that glass inferno of an office they called a council building. Luckily it was still only March which meant the weather was still bearable. In the summer the building was overheated by the sun and in the winter it was equally overheated by the central heating.  

When Sparkes first joined the council he complained about the overpowering central heating, but after numerous attempts to get it turned down he gave up. He began to believe that his fellow-workers enjoyed the heat. Either that or they refused to take the advice of some new whizz-kid.  

Sparkes had gained promotion quickly and went to the new offices as head of his department. He had been treated with suspicion for over a year before his fellow workers realised that he did have human failings. Gradually he had slipped into a routine and now some two years later at the age of 40 he had accustomed himself to settling in the job.  

That partly explained the boredom. Weeks had long since started to merge into one another almost as if work was a continuation, a never ending circle punctuated only by the short breaks known as the weekend. How could they be an end when they only began another round?

March 10th was just like any other Monday. For Sparkes it only brought the prospect of returning to the office after another highly enjoyable weekend spent with his wife and daughter. Of late, however, even the weekends had brought anger and disillusionment. 

Mondays were a let down. There was no other explanation for it. For months he had been becoming more and more disillusioned with his job. It had not fulfilled its promise, or perhaps he had not fulfilled his. Either way the work was boring and recently he had become short tempered.  

Short temper often led to bouts of anger and Sparkes just didn't know why. God knows how many times of late he had shouted at his wife and daughter and the number of petty arguments were getting worrying. It was almost as if he couldn't help himself, almost as if his thoughts and deeds often didn't tie in. He didn't mean to shout or be vindictive, but that's how things came out at times.  

Maureen was a good wife. Theirs was in general a good marriage. Always after the quarrels he apologised knowing that he had been wrong. But that didn't stop him starting them. Still he was sure it was a passing stage, after all he had reached that age. The age when people laughed and made jokes about life beginning. How could life began at 40 when you were already over halfway through it, he thought ?  

Despite all this Sparkes enjoyed life. He had security, a nice home, a loving family and the life-style he had always dreamed of. Even when at work he consoled himself with thoughts about home and those waiting to welcome him in the evenings, yes John Sparkes was a lucky man.

Monday   March    10th

Sparkes reached out automatically as  the alarm went off. He shook his head and murmured an obscenity.  Clearing his bleary eyes he looked at the clock. It was 7.30 a.m.

"Damn the bloody time", he said moodily.

Maureen groaned slightly and turned over in her sleep.

Sparkes turned to her and shook her gently at first and then more vigorously when she did not respond:

"Come on love, wake up"

"What's  the time?"

Sparkes replied as he swung his legs onto the floor and put on his slippers. Maureen gradually sat up, looked at the clock and rubbed her eyes. Why did the night always seem so short, she thought as she too got up?

Thirty minutes later the weekly routine had started. Sparkes was no great conversationalist in the mornings. He acknowledged his daughter's greetings as she came down. Pamela was sixteen and at high school. A clever girl she also had a fair proportion of good looks and was never without some boy or other from the neighbourhood hanging round. Sparkes always thought it was a good job they lived in a select neighbourhood where the yobs and working class could not touch her.

In his own ways Sparkes was a snob. Not an unbearable one but nevertheless a snob. He preferred to mix with his own kind and he preferred his daughter and wife to do the same. The Sparkes household was definitely on the upper side of middle class.

After breakfast he took his usual walk in the garden and then caught up with the local news in the morning paper.  

By 8.15 he was ready for work. Pamela had already departed to catch the school bus and Maureen was starting the household chores when he walked into the kitchen.

He had not wanted an argument that morning. The thought of starting work again after the weekend was enough to put him in a bad mood. He was just walking to the front door to leave when his wife made a statement.

"Don't forget Geoff and Mary are coming over tonight".

"But you know I 'm working until eight".

"Well what's  the problem I can hold supper back until later".  

 

"You know after a hard days work I don't feel particularly sociable. Anyway you know Geoff bores me".  

"He's your friend you know. Anyway you never seem particularly sociable when we have friends at the weekend. I don't know what's happening to you lately. You seem to be short tempered all the time,"    

 

Maureen was getting angry and somehow she had hit the nail on the head. Sparkes turned and walked out of the door, slamming it behind him.

This  time it took him only a few minutes  to realise how unreasonable he had been. A few minutes on the open road and Sparkes was already calling himself a bastard:    "Why do I always deliberately hurt her"?    he thought.

"Why am I such a bastard. I really don't appreciate all the good things  that are mine".

On the journey to work Sparkes  thought long and hard about his recent behaviour. There had to be some reason that made him lose his  temper at the slightest thing. Maureen had been right. Geoff was his friend and he was sure that Maureen didn't particularly like him. She asked him round occasionally as a goodwill gesture. Geoff was a bore but perhaps he was less of a bore  than John Sparkes was becoming.

Monday morning and Sparkes was being tortured by his subconscious. There was definitely truth in the saying "You always hurt the ones you love". He made a mental note to phone Maureen when he reached the office and to send her some flowers. He would also get away  that evening as soon as he could and act the perfect host to Geoff and Mary.

As he  turned left off the main road he could see things clearer. He would have  to make a determined effort  to keep his  temper. If Maureen annoyed him he would have to hold it all under his breath. Perhaps even go  to the toilet or bedroom and have a quiet swear. Then he must try and calm down, try to live and enjoy his life.

As  the road twisted away from him he  thought of the enjoyable weekend the family had just spent. On Friday he had gone to  the pictures with Maureen. Something about  a volcanic eruption somewhere. He never much took notice of the film. Maureen had wanted to go and he had been happy to find somewhere quiet and dark. In fact half-way  through the film he had fallen asleep and only woken up as  the closing credits were flashing across  the screen.

"Who was  that attractive man in the mountain scene?" Maureen had asked on the way home.

"Oh some young actor", he replied absently.

"Young my foot , he was at least 50", she replied.  

"Oh you're fancying older men now are you?" he said jokingly as she playfully poked him in the ribs.  

Yes Friday had been a good evening. He remembered hearing Pamela come in late and falling over  the chair in the hall. She had obviously been living it up at  the local discotheque with the latest boy friend.  

Actually he could remember  thinking that this one was better than the rest. A grammar school boy and quite refined. Certainly better than that spotty faced university student she had insisted on taking around the previous summer on the pretence that she was showing him the major architectural buildings in a hundred mile radius. Nevertheless Sparkes accepted that his daughter had her own life to lead and he had promised never  to inter fare.

Then there was Saturday. Saturday had turned out to be a bright spring day and he had taken Maureen and Pamela down to  the small cove. Bonzi the pet dog had enjoyed that as well. as he drove along Sparkes smiled. Who on earth thought up a stupid name like Bonzi for a poodle. Sunday had been a relaxing day filled with gardening and car cleaning and paper reading.

By now he had reached a sharp right hand bend. He pushed the gear stick down into  third and then increased speed as he pulled into a long straight prior to turning out onto  the dual carriageway.

His  mind changed as he thought of the day ahead of him. Interviews with at least  three people. It looked like a busy timetable full of boring people with boring ideas. Perhaps he would have time for dinner, perhaps not.

Sparkes lived about 20 miles from the office. It took him about half-an-hour to reach it and he disliked the driving. Nevertheless it had been his own choice to live so far away. The office was well out into  the country and there was not much housing directly nearby. When he took on the job he had spent two days house hunting, with Maureen and Pamela and only one property really appealed to him. That was his present home and he felt it worth the car journey morning and night to be able  to live in a house he wanted.

The journey took him through two small towns and, apart from the short stretch of dual carriageway, the journey consisted of numerous stretches of bendy roads, Sparkes knew every twist and turn, however. It wasn't any particular navigational skill on his part but just experience of travelling the same stretch five days a week for many years. Indeed familiarity bred contempt.  

He knew just where to speed up and just where to slow down. He also knew the two small towns well. Both had small but adequate shopping centres and the family took it in turns to do the weekly shopping in one or the other.  

He glanced at his watch, it was 8.40 a.m which meant he had 20 minutes  to go before work started. With only about ten minutes driving to do he was well in time and so slowed down slightly.

Not for the first time on the journey a smile came to his face. He hated Mondays but somehow always seemed to arrive at work earlier than on other days of the week.

He kept the clock at a steady 35 m.p.h in top gear and set back to enjoy the early morning. The torment in his mind had subsided and he felt more at ease. It had been silly losing his  temper with Maureen and silly to walk out of the door in a huff. He switched on the radio and the early morning disc jockey was playing his usual selection of pop music.

As he reached the first village he slowed down to keep in touch with the 30 m.p.h speed limit. It  took just over two minutes  to get through and then he was in the country again.

Wharton now lay two miles ahead and the office about three after that. Sparkes had always found it difficult to understand why a local authority had built its offices in the middle of the country. Accepted it was a rural area that they governed but it made it so difficult for the employees who did not own cars. Still local government always had and probably always would work in a mysterious way. He had always been amused by a worker who had used a famous hymn to illustrate the point: "God and councillors work in a mysterious way".

Sparkes turned up the radio as he approached Wharton. The music soothed him. Music was his main hobby and his stereo system at home was his pride and joy. Maureen had her dressmaking, Pamela her boyfriends and Sparkes had his stereo.

He drove into  the left hand bend and then into  the short straight filled with shops. A few people were wandering along obviously waiting for the grocer's shop to open. They had probably cleaned out  their pastry stock over  the weekend and were anxious  to keep the children quiet that night.  

The road through the village was narrow. Residents had been campaigning for a bypass for many years but, with the government cuts in expenditure, it looked like being many years before any relief road could be built.  

Sparkes disliked driving through Wharton. Only one side of the road had double yellow lines. This meant that  throughout the day delivery vans and cars parked on the opposite side to make it impossible for two cars  to pass at the same time. It also obscured the view. On a number of occasions in the past Sparkes had been forced to back away or pull into an entrance to let a car travelling in the opposite direction pass.  

In fact the only accident he had been involved in happened in Wharton two years before. Ironically that was on a Monday. He had pulled out too soon from behind a van. He had let one car through but failed to see  the one behind. The lapse had meant a collision and a resulting £25 fine and endorsed driving licence for careless driving. Luckily nobody had been injured and the marked page in his driving licence was the only thing that remained to remind him of the incident.  

On the whole he was a careful driver who did his best to keep to speed limits, although at times he found a necessity  to exceed them. This Monday, however, there was no necessity to do any such thing.  

As he drove down the street he noticed a bakerís van unloading at the side of the road. He only took a passing interest as he approached as most of his attention was centred on the music coming from the car radio. It was blaring out one of his favourite records River Deep, Mountain High by Ike and Tina Turner.  

 

Sparkes was totally unaware of what was going to happen in the few seconds that followed. Completely unaware that the next minute would change his whole life and for him be the beginning of a nightmare.

 

Chapter Two  

Sparkes applied the brakes gently and pulled in slightly behind the van. He then checked his inside mirror and glanced across the road for oncoming traffic. Seeing the road clear he pulled out to overtake the stationary vehicle.

He didn't see the woman walk into the road from behind the van until it was too late. As he slammed on the brakes he could see her face looking at him for a split second. The face showed sheer terror. The car skidded out of control and from that point Sparkes had no say in the matter. It was all left to fate.

The woman seemed unsure as to whether to continue into the centre of the road or to turn back towards the path. In the end she had no time to make a decision. The car made contact with an agonising crunch and the women's body crumpled into the road.  It was almost as if she had deliberately walked out into his path.

Sparkes sat stunned in his car.

"Oh my God", was about the only thing he could say.  

After a few seconds he thrust the door open and rushed into the road. A crowd of people were already round the body. Many were staring, others were shouting at Sparkes although he couldn't understand what they were saying. He was in a daze. Somebody muttered something about the police and an ambulance and rushed off in the direction of the nearest phone box.

 

Others jostled their way to the woman who was lying quite still in the road. Sparkes bent down and touched her and a feeling of panic spread through his body.  He was no doctor but it was easy to see that she was dead.  

"Oh my God" he said for a second time . as he fell to the pavement. He felt the strong arms of a man help him to his feet and whisper in his ear something about sitting down.

He was sure he didn't pass out but the next thing he could remember was a man in a blue police uniform bending over him. The officer shook him gently and spoke.  

"Sir, can you tell me anything about what happened ?"  

Sparkes looked up. The police officer had a kindly face. It was silly but his mind was a blank.  

" Sir, can you tell me anything about what happened", the officer repeated.  

Sparkes shifted in his seat, shook his head hopelessly and looked in front of him. Perhaps he had passed out after all because the crowd were no longer there, neither was the body.  

Sparkes pointed at the road "The the woman", he stammered, "Where is the woman?"  

"Don't worry about that. The ambulance has taken her away", the officer replied. "Come on sir I think we had better go to the police station, at least you can have a rest there and a hot drink".  

Sparkes muttered something that sounded to him like thanks and allowed the officer to direct him to a waiting police panda car. As they drove away things began to clear in his mind:  

"But officer. There was a woman, a woman, oh her face, I saw it before I hit, oh my God what have I done, where is she, why?" The statements came uneasily in a staccato way.  

The officer replied reassuringly.  

"If it's any help to you sir I can tell you that there are a number of independent witnesses who saw the lady walk out in front of your car, I reckon, for what it's worth, that you were in no way to blame for the death".  

The death, Sparkes felt sick. He could remember leaning over the woman and realising that she was dead but up to that point nobody had told him so in cold blooded words. The word death in itself was so final and to all intent he was a murderer. Someone who had taken a life, Whether or not the woman had walked out in front of  him it had been his car that had caused the damage. But how could he have avoided it? Surely hadn't he done everything possible?   Hadn't he applied the brakes ?   Questions kept crossing his mind, a mind that was already full of torment. He put his hands over his face and burst into tears.

The drive to the police station was in fact a short one but to Sparkes it seemed an eternity. He was ashamed of himself for letting his emotions get the better of him. He had read about the result of shock on people, now he was experiencing it himself. What was going to happen now? Where was he going? What was he doing and when would this nightmare end ?

He could remember walking through a corridor at the police station and that the walls were painted blue, what a thing to remember at such a time, he thought. Then he was led into a room with two easy chairs and a coffee table in the middle. Within a few minutes a cup of hot tea was in front of him. A few minutes later the same police officer entered.  

" No hurry, sir, but when you feel like it I would like to ask you a few questions", the officer said.

Sparkes felt more like talking now. Perhaps if he talked he would find out what exactly had happened. After all in the car hadn't the policeman said something about it not being his fault?  

"Okay " , he said  

The officer took out a notebook and sat back.

"I want you to try and tell me exactly what happened at Wharton",  he said.  

Sparkes  tried to remember.  

"Well I can remember entering the shopping area. There was a van parked on my side of the road. I think it was delivering to the baker's shop. Then I think I slowed down and then went to overtake the van", his speech slowed down and his eyes filled with tears.  

"I can't remember exactly what happened then. I saw this woman in front of me, her face, my God her face it was awful", for the second time that day Sparkes broke down.  

After a few minutes the officer continued.  

"I know this is very painful for you sir but it is important that you remember. Just try to remember what happened."

"Yes I appreciate that officer but it's so bloody difficult. "

 

"Let me see if I can help you sir. You said the woman came out from behind the van."

 

"Yes that's it. She came out from the van and seemed to stop in the middle of the road. That's when I saw her. She just stood there unsure of whether to go forward of backwards. There was something strange about her."

 

"How do you mean sir?" asked the officer.

 

"Well it's hard to explain really, but she seemed to have a strange look on her face. It was almost as if she was smiling. Yes that's it. She seemed to be rooted to the spot and she had a strange smile on her face. Then I hit her and that's virtually all I can remember. I must have passed out for a few seconds with shock. I then got out of the car and pretty much that's all I can remember before you arrived. I don't remember any ambulance arriving. There were people there I'm sure of it, but they had all disappeared by the time you arrived, or certainly by the time you took me in the police car. What happened to my car?"

 

"Don't worry about that sir. It's been taken away for examination. Just procedure, you know to check that everything is in order and that your brakes were working, that sort of thing. I'm sure you are suffering from shock sir. We have a doctor here. He could give you the once over and perhaps give you something for the shock."

 

Suddenly all Sparkes could think of was Maureen's reaction when she heard what had happened. He had left the house in an angry mood. She would remember his aggressive attitude over the past few weeks and his response to news that two friends were coming for an evening meal. Would she think that his mood had contributed to the accident, had contributed to the death of a defenceless woman? But why had the woman virtually stopped in the middle of the road and smiled at him? There were so many questions that he needed answering but at the moment he was having problems simply thinking straight.

 

So many things about this incident just didn't add up. Had he really blacked out? Where had all the witnesses gone? Why had he not seen an ambulance appear or the body be taken away and why hadn't he seen his own car being driven away? Nothing made sense, but again this was probably the shock.

 

The truth was probably quite simple. The woman had been unsure on her feet or perhaps she had been suffering from a mental illness. She had become confused and walked out into the road. He had been unable to avoid hitting her. He had remembered sitting unable to move in the car. So perhaps he had passed out and then somehow dragged himself out of the car.

 

On seeing the woman laying in the road he had probably fainted again and not really come round until the police arrived, by which time an ambulance had taken the body away and his car had also gone. But if that had been the case why hadn't he been taken to hospital as well for a check up? Still the unanswerable questions came to him.

 

"Sir we will need to take a statement about the accident."

 

"Yes of course, but there are so many things I don't understand officer."

 

"I wouldn't worry Sir. As I've already said it looks as if the lady walked out into the road. We have found out who she is and we'll be popping round to see her family to let them know what has happened."

 

To Sparkes there seemed something strange about the matter of fact way the police officer was dealing with this situation. He didn't seem all that bothered that a pedestrian had been killed, that she had family, that there had been an accident. Sparkes consoled himself with the fact that the officer had probably dealt with many sudden deaths during his career and this was just another Monday morning job for him.

 

"I need to phone work and tell them I'm going to be late," Sparkes said.

 

"I think it's probably better if you don't go in today sir. By the time you've recovered a bit from the shock and we've taken the statement it will be late anyway."

 

"Okay officer, but can I borrow a telephone to contact them and let them know what's happened."

 

"Don't worry sir. Just give me the number and a contact name and I'll get somebody to contact them and let them know what's happened."

 

"Well it's the council offices and the number is Wharton 7489. Ask to speak to Giles Smith, he's the chief executive."

 

"Ah yes I know Mr Smith sir. He's on the council neighbourhood watch working party," the officer replied.

 

It took the best part of an hour to write the statement which Sparkes signed as a true record of what happened - or rather a true record of the few things he could remember. It didn't seem to matter that his memory of the incident was virtually non existent.

 

"I really need to phone my wife," he said when the statement had been completed.

 

"All in good time sir. I think what you need is another cup of tea and maybe some biscuits. Always does the trick in cases of shock," said the police officer.

 

If Sparkes didn't know better he would have claimed that the police were preventing him from making phone calls. The officer had seemingly made no attempt to contact the council. Sparkes felt that this whole incident had a rather strange feel about it although he had to admit that he was beginning to see things slightly clearer now. This incident had not been his fault. There could be no blame attached to him. The woman had simply, for whatever reason, walked out into the road without looking. He had been unable to avoid her. There was nothing wrong with his car. The brakes were in perfectly good working order and he had tried his best to stop. At the time of his accident his mind had been focussed on the road and he certainly hadn't been speeding. It was a simple matter of an elderly woman making a tragic decision to wander into the road and he had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. If it hadn't been himself it would have been somebody else involved.

 

"How are you feeling now sir," inquired the police officer.

 

"A little better thank you officer," Sparkes replied although he still felt rather shaky.

 

"If I were you sir I think I'd have a bit of a rest. There's a nice little hotel in the main street. I'm sure they can rent you a room for the day. I think a sleep would do you good and then we'll get you taken home early evening."

 

To Sparkes this seemed sensible. Perhaps it was better not to worry Maureen. He could go home at the usual time and tell her the news in a much calmer way than if he blurted it out on the phone.

 

"If you like sir I'll make you a reservation. It's the Red Lion just a hundred yards down on your left."

 

"Yes I know it officer and thank you."

 

"No problem sir I'll just go and give them a ring and I'll contact Mr Smith as well."

 

The officer left the room and for a number of minutes Sparkes was left with his own thoughts. Could he have done anything to avoid the collision, could he have helped the woman in any way, was he driving erratically, why had he left home in a huff, was nay of this his fault? His mind seemed to go round in circles. Shortly after the police officer re-entered the room.

 

"I've booked you a room at the Red Lion sir. They say you can stay as long as you like. You might like to have a sleep. I'm sure when you awake things will seem much clearer. If you like we can have a car pick you up at 6 p.m and take you home. If we need to speak to you again in the meantime we will know where you are."

 

Sparkes just nodded. All he wanted at this moment in time was access to a bedroom, a bed and the kind of oblivion that sleep brings.

 

The officer escorted him on his short walk to the Red Lion, almost as if he didn't trust him the make the journey on his own.

 

to be continued