How would you like to die? It’s not a choice anymore, you have to face facts. You had a choice, once, but now it’s simply a matter of detail. You drift from dull thoughts into a world of pain and sounds you don’t recognise. Everything is strange and jagged in your memory but you are desperate - driven to know where you went wrong.
The sounds hit you first: soft chatter and the bleeping of machines and then you try to open your eyes. They are stuck together but you force the muscles to prise them open and all you can see is a blur. You try to move but you ache all over. Your back feels shattered and your legs are heavy. You try to raise your arm to your face to wipe away the confusion but all you can feel is the weight of nothing, grating against the rough linen as you lie in an unfamiliar bed. Your face is burning as much as your need to understand why you are here. Now you can see tubes and wires stretching from the pain in your body, out into the room.
‘Can you hear me?’ says a voice, echoing in the onslaught of panic descending quickly.
‘I’d like to ask you a few questions,’ he says but you have questions of your own. Questions that sear deep inside and you search frantically for answers and then you remember the hundred thousand pounds. The fortune that was just within your reach, the cash that was going to open new doors and set you free - and still you believe that there is a chance.
It came to you in a moment: that day when they opened the doors and sent you back out into the world. Free after eleven years and a hundred and forty nine days (give or take a few hours). A hundred thousand hours of your life, cruelly taken from you, in payment for a crime you never committed - and how you raged with revenge at the thought of it. Someone was going to pay for your sacrifice and as you walked the driveway from the jail into the bright spring morning, all you felt was determination to seek pay-back. “Give a dog a bad name…” you figured. You’d been to hell, how bad could things get?
‘Need a lift?’ said the stranger, leaning over and looking at you through his open window. It was a nice car, the road was long and you’d been hitchhiking for a few hours now. You had no money; only the clothes you stood up in and nowhere to go, so you thought: “Why not?” And now, you are about to re-live the whole splintered thing, as if it were happening, again.
‘Thanks, buddy,’ you say, as you throw open the door.
‘Where are you heading?’ he asks.
‘Wherever you’re going,’ you answer and he grins.
‘Ah, the great adventure, eh?’ he says as the car gets back up to speed.
For a long while he says nothing but eventually he becomes curious. ‘What’s your name?’
You think fast. Something is stirring in you and you begin to feel that this might be a situation you could use.
‘John,’ you lie.
‘Pleased to meet you John. My name’s Timothy - Timothy Nolan.’
You look at him and he turns briefly to see your face.
‘I’m going to Whitehaven, is that any good to you?’ he asks.
You have no idea how to answer and you shrug. Then, the gears kick in.
‘What’s in Whitehaven?’ you ask him.
‘I’m going to see my old uncle. Haven’t met him since I was little. But this weekend is very special.’
Yes, I’m going to collect my inheritance,’ he says and now you’re interested.
‘Poor old Montgomery. Blind as a bat. Lived alone in that big house for many years and never trusted banks. Keeps his fortune in a safe in the cellar.’
Your thoughts are racing now. Scheming and planning your next move. There was a silence for a long time and then he spoke.
‘I reckon you’re thinking how you can bump me off, trick the blind old fool and make off with the hundred thousand, aren’t you?’
‘Is it that obvious?’ you say with hesitation in your voice, but he just laughs.
‘Ha, I can read you like a book. I’d think the same but it’s not so easy,’ he says but now, you’re looking for clues.
‘There’s something I’ve not told them,’ he says. ‘I’m dying. Just six months left, I’ve been told. But that’s just enough time to make sure the money falls into the right hands first.’
Your mind is racing now and you ask:
‘What’s wrong with you?’
‘Weak heart, you see,’ and then you act. You grab the steering wheel, aiming it for a tree, just beyond the river at the side of the road. He panics and starts to gasp as the car rocks to a halt.
‘You’ve got to get me to a doctor,’ he says but you have other plans. If he dies of a heart attack now, it’s not your fault. You know all you need to know so you go along with your instincts.
‘No, I don’t think so,’ you say with a coldness which makes him stare at you with pleading eyes.
‘So, you think you can get away with it? Well perhaps, I knew this would happen. Maybe it was fate, maybe I just didn’t want the cash to go to the wrong one. Call it a gift from a stranger,’ he says as he slumps forward, writhing in pain.
You have to act quickly, so you wrench his trembling body from the car and drag it back to the bridge you just crossed. You look around. You’re deep in the country, not a soul for miles. This is too easy, you think. You take his jacket and try it on, fastly searching the pockets - a wallet, a lighter, some small change: it’s all you need for now, if all else fails. Sure, you could pass for him. The old man is blind. hasn’t seen you for years. What could go wrong?
Lifting him, you let his body fall heavily into the fast moving water below and watch it sink as the current flows away and then you stand back and breathe out.
Driving a few more miles down the road you enter Whitehaven and see a big house on the hillside. This must be the place and you decide to take a chance. Arriving up the gravel driveway your heart is pounding. So close now, this should only take a few minutes.
You let yourself in. Why wouldn’t you? You’re family now and you creep slowly through the main hallway looking for a way into the cellars. Once inside, you fumble with the combination. You know how to break a safe, the guys had talked about that, back when you were inside, but it’s not easy.
‘Timothy? Is that you?’ says a voice at the top of the stairs and you hear the tapping of a cane approaching in the darkness.
‘Why didn’t you say hello when you arrived?’
‘I was…’ you think on your feet, ‘just checking.’ It doesn’t make sense but you don’t care any more. He laughs.
‘You’ll get the money. All in good time - after the wedding.’
Suddenly, you’re confused.
‘The wedding?’ you ask. ‘Ah yes, the wedding.’
‘Timothy, your voice is different. Let me feel your face. See how you’ve changed,’ but his approach is more than you can cope with. You have to buy some time. Try not to alert him too much, too soon.
Look,’ you say, remembering the lighter. ‘I need to get some cigarettes. I’ll be back in a while,’ and you rush past him, back up the stairs. He turns.
‘Always was the impetuous one. Always dashing about,’ he says and follows you. ‘Make sure you get back before Stephanie arrives,’ he calls in the distance.
You drive back to the village and buy some things but returning to the car you are approached by a man who calls to you.
‘Have you a light?’
You stop and search in your pocket while he looks at you.
‘New to these parts?’ he asks and you race for an answer.
‘Just visiting the old man,’ you say.
‘Montgomery?’ he asks. ‘How do you know him?’
‘I’m Timothy Nolan, his nephew,’ you lie and it’s then that you are stopped in your tracks. You see the man reach inside his jacket and show you the barrel of a gun.
‘Get in the car and drive,’ he says.
As you pull away from the village, he has you in his sights.
‘Let me introduce myself. I am Justin Nolan. Timothy’s younger brother and I don’t know what you’ve got going here but it seems rather convenient.’
Pistol-whipped by this new turn, you say nothing and keep your eyes on the road.
‘See, Timothy owes me a lot of money. A lot of money and, well, I was planning to collect - but with you in the picture it changes everything. I suspect you killed him. Am I right?’
Suddenly, you find yourself with a get-out.
‘Weak heart. He just died on me.’
‘How convenient,’ he says. ‘Well, we can play this a couple of ways then. Either I can go back to the house, kill the old man and get the money, or you can do it. If you do it, I won’t have to kill anyone and all you’d be guilty of is a bit of petty burglary.’ he says.
‘What’s in it for me?’ you say quickly.
‘If you do as I ask, say: sixty forty,’ and then he pauses. ‘Or I could just take it all, if you know what I mean.’
His proposal doesn’t fit in with your plan and you’re not prepared to share with this idiot and his ideas of betrayal so you flick up your arm and the gun goes off, firing a bullet into the roof. You grab his wrist and let go of the wheel as the car careers off the road. You struggle, but he is strong and you have everything to lose so you elbow him in the chin and manage to get the gun which you turn on him. Squeezing his own fingers on the trigger it goes off again and he becomes limp. Now, you have a new problem but you remember a lay-by a mile or so back with some public toilets so you drag his body into a cubicle, lock the door, fire a couple more rounds just to be sure and climb over the paneling. No one will find him there for days, you think, but the sound of a horn alerts you. You’d left the car in the road in the rush and it was blocking the turning. A woman in a convertible is calling to you.
‘Can you move it please? I’d like to get past,’ she says but as you approach you see her looking, searching.
‘Did I hear shots?’ she asks.
‘Yes,’ you say, scrambling your senses. ‘Some rabbits. I was just practicing, but I’m not a very good shot,’ you lie.
‘I’m Stephanie Miller,’ she announces and you freeze.
‘Hi. I’m just on holiday for a few days…’ but before you can introduce yourself - make the situation appear ‘normal’ - she interrupts.
‘Isn’t that Timothy Nolan’s car?’
She sees the fear in your eyes and knows something is wrong. She starts to reverse up but wait! if she does that: goes to the village to tell someone, your chances of getting to that money will be lost forever. Without thinking, you aim the gun at the back of her head and fire. You watch as a pretty pink spray covers the windscreen and the bullet ricochets off the metal. You’ll be damned if you don’t get that money. Eleven years and a hundred and forty nine days you’d waited. Nothing was going to stop you now.
Stuffing her body into the boot and wiping down the windscreen, you push the vehicle into position. There, it looks parked now. She might just have easily gone for a walk. No one will know. Not for a while at least, just enough time to collect and be away. Out of here, forever.
Back at the house, you urgently try the combination again. It seems so close, you can almost imagine your fingers counting the crisp, clean notes.
‘You’ll never break it,’ says the old man’s voice behind you.
‘Only Justin knows the combination. That was my security in case you ever tried something like this. It was my way of being sure that you married. It was a condition, Timothy.’
This is all too much now. You want to keep up the pretence but time is running out. The old man moves closer, tapping his way towards you.
‘That smell. Are you bleeding? What have you done?’ he asks but enraged, you whack him with the first thing you can reach and he falls, unconscious. You heave him into a corner and set about making an explosive. It’s not hard, you picked up a lot of new skills inside. Some weedkiller, toilet cleaner, other bits and pieces. All stuff that’s lying around you in the dim storeroom.
But then, as the fuse is burning, you hear him! He has your gun but you know he can’t see you. You reach for a rake and start to swing but he aims for the noise. Shots ring out. He gets you in the legs and shoulder but the rake catches him squarely in the head and you both fall. The fuse is burning and you must get out. Crawling across his bloodied body you reach the door. The money! All you can think of is the money!. The door is locked. You try it, furiously but it is bolted from the outside. Impossible! Fear and greed are tearing through your brain now, thundering past every station into the blackness and you close your eyes tightly shut. Just waiting.
‘So, will he live Doctor,’ you hear him say. The voices are too quiet to hear an answer but you hear the detective clear enough as he satisfies himself.
‘Good,’ and then he comes back into the room.
‘Are you ready to talk now? Why was the old man trying to kill you? What were you doing in the house?’
None of it makes any sense to you and although his questions seem obvious, you look at him with a hundred thousand thoughts rushing through your ears. You mustn’t reveal anything yet. There’s still a chance, you think but something’s burning away in your brain.
‘How did you find me?’
’ We got a call from a girl. Told us that you were planning something’
‘Stephanie Miller’ her name was. Do you know her?’
The name hits you like a car and then you remember. Your eyes are wide open now and you stare at the detective.
‘That’s not possible. I…’
(An experiment in ‘second person’ writing. Unedited second draft. 2,578 words.)