HPIM1062.JPG

 

Day One

London, 1966

 

Webster slipped on the wet pavement as he dashed up the street. Cracked distortions of the surrounding buildings lurched up from the puddles, shattering into slivers as he splashed through. Clutching with one hand a bundle of papers, naively tied with string, the other hand he pressed to the ragged red wound beneath his ribs. He heard a car approach from behind. Gasping painfully, he swung round behind a dustbin and crouched, praying that it would pass. When it did so, he continued, staggering and falling more often, his vision growing foggier.

He was dying – the knowledge throbbed at the back of his mind. It was unimportant, as elemental and inevitable as the bullets of rain boring down from above. The only point that mattered was getting the papers to safety.

 

He fell in the gutter, his breath rasping with sharp gusts of pain, and he tasted blood in his mouth. Turning his head to spit the fluid out, he saw a pair of feet coming towards him. They stopped. He raised his eyes.

 

It was a young woman staring in bewilderment. Even in this half-dead state, Webster noticed the startling halo of fiery red hair surrounding her face. He reached out a blood-soaked hand and fell completely to the ground. Footsteps hurried towards him, and he saw the citrine haze that was the girl’s face hovering above him. He murmured incoherently, waving the paper package feebly.

 

“Water… give water.” He choked on his blood, and the girl faded. He tried to speak again.

 

“In fourteen-hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

 

His head fell sideways and his eyes glazed over, fish-like. He was dead.

 

I. Hearing the Light

4:30pm

 

One more month, Dinah decided. She would be able to afford living in London for one more month, but after that she would have to admit defeat and go home. Even flat-sharing with her cousin Maggie, they could barely afford the rent between them, and Dinah’s current employment as a dentist’s secretary showed little signs of improving financially.

Trudging up the back street shortcut, the bitter thought of returning to Taunton soured her face. She foresaw her parents’ gleeful sympathy, their reassurances of how there was still a place for her at their house, at least until she got married and properly settled down.

 

Expected to settle down at seventeen; for God’s sake it was nineteen sixty-six, not eighteen sixty-six! Frustration burnt raw at the back of her throat. Surely the point of the Swinging Sixties was that young people had seen how their parents turned out. She didn’t know what exactly, but there had to be more to life than this.

 

Biting her lips sharply, she remembered she was due to meet Soft Giddy at the Pally that night. Some modelling work he had mentioned. “V-v-very artistic, very t-t-tasteful,” in that slithering stutter that licked every word filthy black. Dinah couldn’t help wondering what strings Giddy might attach to their arrangement. Nothing half a bottle of cherry wine couldn’t help put in perspective.

 

A cruel gust of wind spat squally showers over her, washing away such thoughts. It was cold outside. She sidestepped puddles as a car swept by. It was then that she noticed a man, slumped behind a dustbin. He lurched forward onto his feet and began reeling towards her.

 

Dinah froze, unsure whether to turn back or carry on. He collapsed at the side of the road – not a sudden movement she noted, but almost as if he were crumbling from the inside. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion: the individual raindrops striking her in precision, the man heaving himself to his knees and lifting his head to stare steadily at her, blood dripping from his mouth. He raised his hand to her, almost accusingly Dinah thought in a panic-stricken moment, and then he fell to the ground.

 

This sudden movement, this crescendo of action broke the hypnotic spell, and Dinah rushed forward to help. He was lying on his back, eyes blazing upwards, as if he were trying to pierce a thickening cloud overhead. Dinah knelt over him and saw a grisly red-raw wound, a fleshy mass that oozed blood in a thick clogging stream. She looked instead into his face as he stared through her and muttered indistinctly. He made a feeble gesture with a roll of papers he carried, seeming to want to pass them on.

Dinah crouched nearer to take them, catching only the last few wisps of his words. Water, he wanted water. Dinah glanced around in desperation, and as she did so, his voice came surprisingly loud and strong.

 

“In fourteen-hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

 

She looked back quickly, but it was too late. His eyes were open and unseeing. The rain fell unchecked, filling them with artificial tears.

Read more at:

©2020 by Nicola Niemc