The first sensation Wes was aware of was rain gently splashing on his face. It was swiftly followed by the coppery taste of blood in his mouth and pain resembling a thousand volts of electricity surging through his body.
Sounds began to filter into his ears and he became aware he was lying on the ground. He opened his eyes and then closed them again rapidly as the pain of bright lights seared through his head. He wasn’t sure what had happened, only that it was something awful.
He could hear noises around him. The metallic chatter of radios punctuated by voices filled with urgency and authority. Wes was tempted to stay where he was; to tune the noise out and sink back into the seductive velvet darkness. But the pain and rain conspired to keep him awake, and so, reluctantly, he opened his eyes. With difficulty, gasping with pain, Wes pushed himself upright and looked around.
As the scene around him came into focus Wes cried out, trying to make sense of what he saw. He tried to stand to improve his view, but his legs would not support him, and he fell to his knees again in despair. He could see the flashing lights of emergency vehicles. They concealed his surroundings in shadow before cruelly throwing them into stark relief. The neon-blue strobing picking out every soul-breaking detail. The scene clicked on, off, on, off but he saw enough; more than enough.
Wes saw an unfamiliar dark grey car. The engine was silent and the bonnet crushed. The driver, an older man with grey hair, was stood next to it. Blood was running from a large gash on his face, but the man was oblivious to it. He was talking animatedly to a policeman; hands gesticulating wildly and voice raised as he tried to explain what had happened. Wes heard the words, ‘came out of nowhere’.
Wes looked away… his eyes came to rest on something further down the road. He shuddered as he recognised the car; the white Ford Galaxy he had been driving for the last year. It was on its roof, windows empty of glass, its’ metal body crumpled and broken. Wes had a brief flashback to when he’d bought the MPV, chosen for its reliability and economy. The driver’s seat, set high in front of a panoramic windscreen, made him feel as if he was king of the road. Now, that same car was reduced to a heap of crushed metal and shattered glass, fit only for the scrap yard. Firemen aimed jets of foam over the Ford’s engine to stem the risk of it bursting into flames. Wes didn’t know how he came to be so far from the wreckage. He assumed he had been thrown from the car in the crash, but he could not remember. He could not remember! Looking at the mangled remains of the car he could see that it was impossible for anyone else to have survived. Hot tears fell from his eyes and mingled with the rain on his face as he pictured each of the car’s occupants…
His wife Amelia, beautiful both inside and out. Her smile brightened any room and lifted his heart even on the darkest days. She had a gentle way with all children, especially their own son and daughter. Her dark shoulder-length hair swung as she walked; especially when she leaned forward to kiss him. Her body curved in ways she professed to hate and yet he loved. She had light blue eyes that sometimes sparkled with merriment and sometimes darkened with sorrow.
His beloved daughter Catherine, only eight years old. Delicate and elf-like with long blonde hair that reached to her waist. She moved gracefully, always dancing as if music played in her honour wherever she went. She was a combination of her mother’s grace and kindness and her own childish bravery. Wes had always believed that Catherine would take on the world and win. She looked at him, her daddy, as if he was the hero of the world and he wanted it to be true.
His son, David, Catherine’s twin, younger by only 17 minutes and yet still the baby of the family. Wes saw David as a mirror image of himself; a dreamer with big ideas. David had fought to come into the world, barely breathing when he was born. Wes remembered the harrowing moment the nurses had rushed to resuscitate his son. He was so tiny and so fragile. David had proved them all wrong and had grown into a strong, intelligent boy. His curiosity knew no limits, and he was forever trying to work out how and why things worked, and what could be changed. David too was a child who could change the world if he only had the chance.
These three people were the precious cargo Wes had been responsible for, and he felt a sad desperation pierce his soul. He could not, would not, be guilty of stealing these precious gifts not only from himself but from the world.
As he watched the firemen crowded around the wreckage he knew this was his fault. He had been driving, even when he knew he shouldn’t be. Everything came back to him in an instant. The feel of the steering wheel beneath his hands. The worried looks on Amelia’s face and her biting her lip to avoid an argument. The way he had pushed the car further and faster in response to Amelia’s unspoken recriminations. The arrogant way he had thrown the vehicle around bends, believing he was completely in control. The deception he had practised to conceal his weakness, lying to his wife, lying to himself. It was this which had brought him to this place.
Wes fell forward. Bile was rising in his throat, competing with the sobs that rose from his chest. The sobbing rendered him incapable of moving in a way that alcohol never had. What had he done?
Wes watched and listened as the scene unfolded before him. He heard the sympathetic voices of the firemen. His heart broke as he watched a big, broad fireman lift Catherine’s body from the wreckage of the car and lay it tenderly at the side of the road. The fireman rose to his feet, wiping away tears, dislodging his helmet with his large hands. The fireman paused for a moment to compose himself before turning back to continue his work.
Wes could not look away. He was compelled to bear witness to the scene. The fireman, bulky in his uniform and surely a veteran of many tragedies, lifted another small, broken body from the wreckage. Beneath the blood and dust, there was a gleam of blonde hair. The fireman laid David’s beautiful, lifeless body next to that of his twin. Side by side as they had been in the womb, and for many nights since. Wes and Amelia had often checked on the twins to find them snuggled together in one bed, peaceful in a deep sleep. United in death, the children were serene in a way they had never been in life. When they were alive, happiness, merriment and joy had always lit their faces. Death had turned them into pale alabaster replicas of themselves; their faces still and unmoving.
Wes crawled through the mud and reached forwards to touch the lifeless faces of his children as if to check that they were real. A sob tore from the depths of his soul as he touched the still warm faces that would never move again.
Wes sat next to his dead children and watched in disbelief as the firemen lifted an unrecognisable mess from the wreckage.
Amelia’s beautiful face, the face he had known for nearly twenty years, was mangled and twisted beyond recognition. Blood dripped from a thousand cuts. Her face was distorted from the impact against the windscreen. The same big fireman, his face still wet with tears, placed Amelia reverently next to the twins. He drew a sheet over the three of them, tucking them in as if they were only sleeping; as if they might wake if disturbed by the gentlest breeze.
The fireman paid no attention to Wes as if he knew the man needed to be alone with the enormity of his grief. Or perhaps the fireman could smell the alcohol on his breath and knew he was responsible for this bloodshed.
Wes looked at the three bodies huddled under the sheet and remembered cosy movie nights, the four of them snuggled together and giggling. He remembered the nights when Amelia had snuggled with the children because he had been drinking and she did not want to be with him.
Pain tore him in two as he remembered the joy of being a family. Playing board games together. Rushing through the school run. Listening to the twins’ chatter to each other. Bedtime stories and helping with homework. He remembered the times he had hidden from them, so he could drink because that was what he needed. He thought, if he thought at all, that there would always be other times for games, movies or just being together.
Amelia, David and Catherine were now together forever; there was no more time for movies or games. This was not a Disney movie with the usual happy ending. Through his own actions and the hand of fate, he was alone and that could not be changed.
Wes fell forward, his soul and heart in agony. He placed his hands on the cold wet mud to steady himself. Almost subconsciously, his fingers dug and scratched the earth as if to burrow into it to cover his shame, or perhaps to dig his own grave. His fingers dug deeper into the cold, wet mud as he sobbed. How could he live with the knowledge that his actions had led to this; the destruction of everything he loved? He closed his eyes, but he could not escape the images he had seen. The cold, still faces of his children and the broken body of his wife burnt into his memory. The woman he had loved for twenty years. The woman who had given him two amazing children to make his life complete was gone, and the pain was unbearable.
Wes howled into the night; a cry full of pain, shame and fear. He felt as if his soul had died, for without them he could not go on. His cry echoed through the night, seemingly unheard.
Wes was on his knees, his hands desperately scrabbling as if to seek purchase in this new reality. A world without his precious family. He only became aware of his fingers when they brushed against something hard and colder than the earth which concealed it. Working of their own accord, his fingers explored and pushed the dirt until they uncovered the object. His mind detached from his actions until he held the object in his hands and looked down. His hands clasped a dusty, silver lump. As he turned it over and brushed the last few grains of dirt from it, he realised it was a watch. It seemed old, antique even and was far more elaborate than any modern watch he had ever seen. Not at all like the simple Sekonda on his wrist. The watch’s face was embellished with Roman numerals. The thick silver case was decorated with elaborate swirls and mysterious symbols engraved into the silver with delicate precision. An old, dirty chain hung from the watch, suggesting it was a pocket timekeeper, and it felt heavy in his hand. In places, the casing was worn smooth, as if it had been handled and inspected many times over the years. The strangest thing was, that although the watch had been buried in the soil and its appearance suggested it was old, Wes could hear the cogs inside. He looked at the watch curiously; studying it for several seconds. He could not see the ornate black hands moving around the watch’s face, yet it was ticking. A quiet but clear tick, tock, tick, tock…
As Wes held the watch tightly in his hands, he forgot for a moment the tragedy that had unfolded before him. He focused on the watch, listening to the quiet sound that emanated from it; tick, tock, tick, tock… The watch shimmered and grew hot in his hands; so hot he almost let it drop. Wes blinked. The watch hands seemed to move: the large hand was at 6 while the small hand was nearing the 10: It was 10.30?
Wes was surprised. He was sure that hadn’t been the time on the face before. Yet if asked, he would struggle to say what time the watch had said. Why 10.30 though? He struggled to understand the significance of that time: his mind full of the images from the past few moments. Why had he found the watch, what did it mean? Was there any significance to that time?
He felt dizzy as he realised that 10.30 was the moment this nightmare had begun. This was the time he had made the decisions that led to the death of his family. His beloved children, his gorgeous wife; grief almost overcame him as he remembered what he had lost. Every fibre of his being strained towards the watch. He yearned to bend the very fabric of time and space so that it was earlier, and not too late to change decisions made and save his family. If only he could turn back time; he could set this right.
Wes felt a breeze stir his hair, and a wave of nausea hit him. He rocked sideways, the watch clasped tightly in his hands. For some unfathomable reason, he did not want to let go of the watch, even though it would leave his hands free to steady himself. Instead, he held tightly as if he was clinging to a rope in a stormy sea. Wes did not dare to open his eyes, for he had already seen enough of the painful scene around him. He would never forget the sight of his wife and children lying lifeless at the side of the road.
As he sat, clinging to the watch, the sounds of the road grew more distant. The swish of tyres on the tarmac and the crackle of emergency radios grew quiet around him as if the volume was being turned down. There was a brief moment of silence. Then other sounds filtered into his ears; sounds which were familiar. Wes had a sudden feeling of déjà vu. Familiar voices calling goodbye, music in the background, people laughing and glasses chinking, and then the sound he wanted to hear most of all; a familiar voice heard every day for the last 20 years, now tinged with anxiety.