Crash III: There's No Place Like Home (5 page)

“They were already dead. We found them in Dad’s car. Both Mum and Matilda were sitting in the front seat. I don’t know how they died.”

“Was there a hosepipe attached to the exhaust?”

It took a few seconds for Michael to find his words. “How do you know that?”

“Seriously?”

Michael nodded.

“It’s a classic suicide technique; tape a hose to the exhaust of a car, put the mouth of the hosepipe into the vehicle, and start the engine. The car’s fumes will kill you pretty quickly.”

The world around him blurred as Michael lost focus and shook his head. “Mum wouldn’t do that… not to Matilda.”

With a gentle squeeze on his arm, Lola looked into Michael’s eyes. She didn’t say anything, but she didn’t need to. Her soft gaze said it all.
 

“She killed them both?” Michael said.

“Come on, dude, you can’t blame her.” After spinning full circle, Lola turned her palms to the sky. “I mean, look at this place; we’re living in Hell. Who in their right mind would want to stay around during this?”

Before Michael could reply, Lola said, “But why
did your dad hang them?”

“We had looters about to burst into our house. He said that if we left Mum and Tilly there, they would think the owners of the house were dead and not look for us.”

“Did it work?”

While staring at the ground, Michael’s bottom lip turned down. “No, they had dogs with them. They sniffed us out as soon as they came into the house.”

“Your dad didn’t think that one through then?”

It hurt to speak with the lump in his throat. “No.”

***

“One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four…”

“What the fuck are you doing?” Lola said.

“I’m counting.”

“I can hear that, but why?”

Although Lola walked by his side, Michael stared at the ground. “One, two, three, four… It helps me keep my mind off other things.” Whenever he woke in the middle of the night, he’d count. Counting kept the monsters away.

“But they’re dead. They can’t hurt
you.”

Something fell from one of the corpse’s bodies. Although Michael saw it in his peripheral vision, he didn’t turn to look. When it hit the water with a splash, he flinched. It sounded heavy enough to be a limb.
 

The roar of a loud engine spiked Michael’s pulse, and both he and Lola stopped dead. Despite looking around, they couldn’t see them. “Where are they?”

“I don’t fucking know,” Lola said, “but we’ve got to get away.”

“Where? There’s nowhere to hide around here.”

When Lola looked at the bridge, Michael shook his head. “No way; there’s no way I’m going on there.”

The sound of the engine got louder. “Where else do you suggest we go?”

“Um…”

“We don’t have time for ‘um.’ Where will we go?”

“All right, don’t shout at me.”

Red-faced and wide-eyed, Lola threw her arms up. “Where… will… we… go?”

Where could they go? The vehicle would be in view any second now
.

“Fuck this,” Lola said and ran for the bridge.
 

Hesitating, Michael looked from Lola to the direction of the noise and back to Lola again before he took off after her.
 

The sound of a vehicle’s horn blared out through the quiet night. Whoever was driving that car didn’t feel the need to hide in London. It didn’t matter who they were, Michael didn’t want to meet them.

The cold burned Michael’s lungs as he sprinted after Lola onto the bridge. Trying to stay out of view, they ran close to the side in a low crouch.

As he ran along the wide pavement, Michael looked at the barrier next to him. Thick, stone pillars were topped off with a concrete plinth and a metal railing. There were hundreds of ropes tied all the way along the railing but the barrier hid the dead from sight. Not that he’d forget what he’d already seen.

Then he saw the lights. “Run, Lola, run.”

When Lola looked back in the car’s direction, she stopped. She then hunched down next to the barrier, plunging deeper into its thick shadow.
 

Michael dropped down next to her and caught his breath. Being this low down made it impossible to ignore the slow and steady creak of the ropes; it was almost as though the bridge was talking to them. As if it was laughing at them.
 

The vehicle got close enough to see it was an old truck with maybe three men on the back. When Lola touched him, Michael jumped.

“Get down some more,” she said. “We can’t let them see us.”

Michael pressed himself against a cold, stone pillar.
 

The vehicle got closer to the bridge and slowed down.

Then it turned onto the bridge.
 

Fuck!
Michael’s heart hammered so hard he felt like it would burst. He shook as he waited, vulnerable and rooted to the spot.

The truck stopped.
 

“What are they doing?” Michael asked.

“I—” But before Lola could reply, the sound of another engine roared in the distance. “They’re waiting for their friends.”
 

The burn of tears stung Michael’s eyes and within seconds they dampened his cheeks. “We’re done for, Lola. They’re going to catch us and take us with them. There’s no way we can get away.”

While keeping her eyes on the truck, Lola stood up slowly. She kept close to the side of the bridge and peered over the edge. When she dropped back down, she grabbed Michael by his shoulders and spoke in a whisper. “While they’re stopped, this is our chance; we have to climb down.”

“Huh?”

Instead of answering him, Lola looked at the men in the truck at the end of the bridge, hopped up onto the barrier, and disappeared over the other side.

Hang On

“Hang on, Lola,” Michael said, but she’d disappeared from sight already. The loud tick of the engine and the bright lights waited at the entrance to the bridge. If he had any chance of escaping the men, he had to follow Lola over the side.

The misty air made the truck’s headlights seem blurred. Although, blurred or not, they would be pointing directly at him if he didn’t move.

With the men on the back of the truck all focused on the approaching vehicle, he had the perfect opportunity to follow Lola.

Unfortunately, Michael’s leaden legs disagreed with him. Hopefully, his body would respond when he needed it to…
three, two, one.

Michael vaulted up onto the side of the bridge and lay against the cold railing. Visibility may have been low but not so low they wouldn’t see a silhouette on the bridge if he stood up.

A glance at the river thirty feet below made his stomach lurch. He then looked at Lola. She swung more than the other bodies, despite what looked like her best efforts to remain still. A deep breath did little to calm his shaking limbs.

Michael found the thickest rope close to him and hung his legs over the bridge. As he eased himself down over it, he gripped onto the railing with cold-weakened hands. The weather had wormed so deeply into them it felt like his fingers would snap as if his joints were made of glass.
 

It was hard doing it blind, his face pointing back onto the bridge, but he tried to scoop the rope in with his dangling legs.

With the rope between his feet and his legs crossed at the shins, he gripped on tightly and slid slowly down it.
 

Once his head was lower than the side of the bridge, he stopped. He’d gone far enough to be out of sight. He didn’t need to go any farther.

***

The burn in Michael’s knuckles went from discomfort to needles wedged into the joints within just a few minutes.
 

The thick mist surrounding him turned the air moist. The dampness found its way into the fibers of the rope and the cold air turned it to ice. If he gripped any tighter, it felt like his hands would shatter.

Suddenly, he slipped a little. The cold and coarse rope burned his palms as he held on.

It didn’t matter how tightly he gripped it, Michael started to slip again. If he fell into the river, he’d freeze to death. If he slipped even a little farther, he’d be touching a dead body.

Another slip and he snapped his legs up.
 

When he looked across to see Lola staring at him, her eyes wide, Michael shook his head. “I can’t stop it, Lola.
Help me, I’m slipping.”

Lola looked down at his feet and then back up at him. “Stand on it.”

“What?”

“You’re going to slide to the bottom anyway, so you may as well stand on it. It’ll stop you falling into the river.”

Michael shook his head so hard the entire rope shook. “I’m not standing on it. It’s a dead person.”

“Exactly! It’s dead, so it doesn’t give a fuck.”

Michael looked down at the limp form. It hung as if everything was trying to drag it toward the river. Its arms limp by its side, and its toes pointed to the water. With its face angled down, Michael only saw the back of its head. An angry wound glistened through its dark hair. It looked like someone had taken a hammer to it.
 

When he finally looked back at Lola, she said, “Do it; it’ll stop you from sliding down.”

Although he started crying again and the freezing wind crashed into him, Michael stretched his legs out.
 

Just before his feet touched the corpse’s head, he stopped, a weakness cringing through his legs. “I can’t, Lola.”

“It’s already dead. If you don’t do it, you’ll fall into the river. There’s no way you’ll survive that.”

Hearing it from Lola made it more real. He would die if he ended up in the river. If he didn’t drown, he’d freeze.

A long exhale produced a cloud of condensation in front of him. Then he stretched his legs the extra few centimeters needed to reach the head of the dead person.
 

Tense from the anticipation of it giving way like a rotten melon, Michael pushed against it.

It held.
 

Michael then stood up. The pressure he put on the back of the thing’s skull made it pivot on its neck and pushed its legs out behind it. It was stiff like it was made of wood.

A few seconds later, he nodded at Lola. “It’s works; it actually works.”
 

Lola slid down her own rope, copying what Michael had done.

“So you were waiting for me to test it before you risked your life? Thanks!”

Shaking her head, Lola looked down at the body Michael stood on. “No, you were falling; you had to stand on it. I didn’t. But since you’ve done it, it looks much more comfortable than hanging onto the rope. We don’t know how long they’re going to be up there for.”

Instead of responding, Michael looked around. He’d never seen London bridge from this angle before. The bridge’s arches, each one a small tunnel, amplified the sound of the rushing water and wind.

Michael swung like a pendulum on the end of the rope as he listened. The water rushed beneath him. The wind tore over the river. The rope creaked like it could snap at any moment. The engine of the truck idled. The men laughed and joked… what would they do if they knew the boy who’d escaped them hung directly beneath them at that moment?

Waiting Game

Unable to suppress the whimper that the cold forced from his body, Michael clasped onto the rope. Let Lola think he was weak; he didn’t care. His hands felt like they could break, and he was standing on a damn corpse!

At some point, he’d have to climb the rope again. The longer he waited, the less capable he’d be of getting back up to the bridge. Before long his hands would seize like rusty hinges. Another look down at the dark river below made his stomach twist.
 

With his muscles tense enough to shatter, Michael leaned back and looked up at the bridge. The sound of the throaty engine ticked over. It wouldn’t be long before the second vehicle caught up.

When he looked at Lola, he saw his own sharp pains playing out across her grimacing face.

A loud roar came from above, and Michael looked up again. The lights from the truck swung out over his head as it turned onto the bridge.

Despite the bridge being both clear and wide, the trucks moved slowly as if taking in the sights. The rope wavered as Michael shook and his footing on the copse’s head slipped a little.

As he swung in the wind, Michael closed his eyes and waited.

***

A few minutes later, Michael opened his eyes. The trucks had travelled about halfway across the bridge—far enough away for him to speak safely. “Why are they taking so long?”

Lola clung to the rope, pale and with her jaw locked tight. “Dunno, maybe they’ve had problems on the bridge before. Maybe they’re paranoid.”

“Do you think they know we’re here?”

Lola shook her head. “I doubt it. I think they would have stopped if they did.”

A loud horn sounded and caused Michael to lose his footing. The rope scorched his hands as he slid down it, but he hung on tight enough to halt his fall.

With his legs hanging and the dead nose of the female corpse pressed into Michael’s crotch, a slow shiver rolled through him. Using what little strength he had, he pulled his knees up to his chest and placed his feet on the thing’s shoulders. It burned his thighs but Michael stood up again, grimacing through the pain.

With his footing sure, he took a moment to catch his breath.
 

The cold and rough rope offered little comfort for his now throbbing palms. Although he clenched his jaw, it did little to stop him from shaking as he watched the two vehicles speed off the bridge.
 

He could see them clearly now, but they probably couldn’t see him. To them, he and Lola were just two of many bodies. Copying Lola, he remained as still as possible.

***

A few minutes after the vehicles had disappeared, Michael looked across at Lola. “Should we climb back up now?” Not that he had the strength or inclination to do it.

Lola tilted her head back and looked up. “Yep, let’s do this.”

It looked easy when Lola pushed off from her corpse and shimmied up the rope. Drained from his fall, Michael tried to do the same, crossing his shins to pinch the rope between the outside of each foot.

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