By Shaun Dowdall
Copyright © 2014 by Shaun Dowdall
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Written by Shaun Dowdall
James Partridge climbed down the steps of the bus, stepping onto the pavement. The warm summer breeze washed over him as he abandoned the cool air conditioning, causing a bead of sweat to form on his forehead.
Despite the early hour, the sun still burned brightly, chasing away the last tendrils of mist that hung on the air, paving the way for what was clearly going to be a hot summer’s day.
Behind him, he heard the hiss of the sliding doors closing, followed shortly by the roar of the bus’
engine as it sped away, carrying the remainder of its passengers on towards their destinations.
He waited a moment, stepping into the shade, checking his phone as the throng of commuters walked off to their places of work. The same routine he repeated every day, taking place once again.
A gentle hum filled his ears. It was the combined voices of everyone around him, talking quietly to one another as they went about their day.
The same people went about their business, faces he recognized from his journey into work, faces that had no names. A tall and well-dressed man with receding hair marched quickly, his smartphone glued to his ear, a woman who never wore anything but a tracksuit walked beside her friend, and a young mother leading her two children to school. He recognized them all. Without fail, Monday to Friday, they were all a part of his day.
He had always found himself curious about those people, wandering who they really were. He spent so much time on the bus into work, side by side with the same people each day, but he had never really taken the time to get to know them—sitting in silence, shaking off the cobwebs left behind from sleep.
Eventually, he began walking in the direction of his workplace, hands tucked into his jeans’ pockets. The fresh air filled his nostrils, the early morning sun bathing the world in a soft light, causing the street to glow.
The city of York, its beautiful architecture and white stone buildings, came alive in the light. No matter the weather, James had always found himself lost in admiration for the place, his eyes drinking in its beauty.
Ahead, he saw her, the same girl he saw every morning, walking towards him. He smiled as their eyes met, trying to pluck up the courage to at least say ‘good morning,’ but as always, he knew he wouldn’t.
The girl was attractive; her long dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail today. Her brown eyes watched him as he approached. The freckles on her face were darker than usual, brought out by the sun. She smiled back at him; her arms wrapped around a collection of textbooks she held protectively, their names obscured by her arms.
It was like déjà
vu, the same scene repeating itself once again. He knew he would regret it—he always did. Every day he told himself that he would speak to her, but always backed down. He had thought today might have been different, but as a he walked on by, missing out on his chance.
He wondered what her name was, wondered what she was studying. Any small amount of information would have been enough, but as always, he just carried on walking.
James cursed himself, turning back the way the girl had gone, pushing himself for the first time. He was tired of just existing. Deciding today would be the day, he came alive, seizing the moment.
She was about to cross the road, her headphones jammed in her ears, drowning out the sounds of the world. He knew she would never hear him, even if he had said anything to her, but worst of all, he suddenly realized she would never hear the wailing of the ambulance’s sirens, drawing dangerously close to where she was about to cross.
He could hear the vehicle speeding around the corner, racing towards where the girl had already stepped out into the road, flying directly towards her.
The world seemed to slow to a crawl as a distant scream from an onlooker broke through the wailing sirens, the flashing lights blinking in James’ vision as adrenaline pumped through his veins. His heart began to race, thundering in his chest as he drew a deep breath, watching on as the inevitable proceeded to happen.
Without a thought for his safety, James broke into a run, speeding towards the girl, glancing to his side as the ambulance hurtled in their direction. The noise was deafening, drawing closer, the sound of screeching brakes joining the chaotic mass as he tackled the dark-haired girl.
His arms wrapped around her petite frame, lifting her from her feet, causing them to tumble to the side in a tangled mess. The air whistled past his ears as they fell, ruffling his light hair. He could hear the girl screaming in surprise as his body impacted against hers, his strong arms holding her tight against him in a desperate attempt to protect her.
He was just in time to absorb the shock from the ambulance, a wave of pain washing through him. Despite the crushing sensation, he refused to let go of the girl, even as they were thrown forward, crashing in a heap on the road.
James held on to the girl, his body numb and unresponsive. Blissful silence fell over them as the sirens died. Moments later, people began to shout, crowding around them. He tried to push himself up, but he felt weak, as though he hadn’t slept for weeks. He could feel the girl stir beneath him, her heart pounding against his body, the warmth of her breath on his face.
Slowly, he managed to lift his head, looking down into the girl’s brown eyes, which were wide with shock. For a few seconds, they stared at one another, and then he smiled, trying to look reassuring as they lay there, his body bruised and broken.
His breath caught in his throat, a burning sensation beginning to well up inside of him. Every inch of his body had begun to hurt, threatening to drag him into oblivion.
He knew that he needed medical attention, his eyesight beginning to fade, but for the first time, he was glad he had broken from his monotonous morning routine. For once, he was glad he had turned around to say hello.
Hannah Belkin opened her eyes, the artificial light stinging them as she looked around. Her body ached and her memory was fuzzy, but she was dimly aware that she had been in an accident, narrowly avoiding something terrible.
The sterile smell of disinfectant filled her nostrils as she pushed herself up onto her elbows, the stiff sheets of the bed she lay on falling to one side, leaving her feeling exposed and vulnerable. Her skin broke out in goose bumps as the cool air washed over her, sending a chill down her spine as tendrils of fear slivered into her mind.
Immediately she knew that she was in a hospital room, the scene causing her to panic as it brought memories back to her.
It hadn’t been until it was too late, the sound of her music drowning out the noise, that she had heard the ambulance. She remembered the fear, the absolute terror she had felt, before he had shielded her from certain death.
Struggling to get a hold of herself, she tried to puzzle things out. She knew that she had to concentrate, but her mind was working too quickly, adrenaline threatening to send her into a panic.
She didn’t know his name—only what he looked like. She saw him almost every day, passing him by as she walked to university. He was handsome, his blond hair immaculately styled, and his blazing blue eyes causing her heart to skip a beat every time they met hers. She had often thought about trying to spark up a conversation with him, but she knew it was no good. That someone like him would never be interested in someone like her.
She was too involved in her studies. Not the exciting kind of girl that someone as attractive as him would be interested in. Besides, she didn’t have the time for a relationship.
The last thing she remembered was his arms wrapping around her protectively as they lay in the street, how he had forced a smile, trying to calm her down before they had both passed out. She could only hope that he was okay—that nothing bad had happened to him because of her.
As she lay on the hospital bed, she considered how she could say thank you to the man. Her studies took up almost all of her time, but she knew she needed to make a gesture to show him how grateful she was. The least she could do was buy him a coffee.
Hannah lay on the hospital bed, considering how she could ask him to have coffee with her, when she heard footsteps approaching her bed.
Hannah turned to face the newcomer, a tall man in a doctor’s uniform. He looked to be in his early fifties, with greying hair and thick-rimmed glasses.
“Hi,” she said, her voice weak.
“It is good to see you awake,” the man said, his glasses perched on the end of his nose. “How are you feeling?”
Hannah considered the question for a moment. She felt awful. Not only did her entire body ache, but her mind was also a mess. All she wanted to do was go home to her flat and curl up in her own bed.
“Confused, I guess,” she answered truthfully.
“That’s understandable. You had quite a near miss,” the doctor explained. “You’re very lucky to be alive and walk away with no serious injuries.”
Hannah nodded in response, considering how close she had come to certain death. If she hadn’t have been rescued, she didn’t even want to consider what state she would have been in.
“The guy who helped me!” she blurted out suddenly, desperate to know if he was okay. “How is he?”
She saw the look in the doctor’s eyes immediately, a look that suggested the news wasn’t good—that same look her father had given her years ago.
Even though she wanted to cry right then, she waited. She had to hear it from him; she
to hear the words.
“I’m afraid that he sustained far more serious injuries than you did. We did everything we could to save him, but he passed away earlier today.”
Hannah closed her eyes, fighting back the tears she knew were coming. Even though she hadn’t known the man, he had saved her, sacrificing his own life for hers. Now she would never be able to say thank you to him, never be able to buy him that coffee.
“I shall leave you alone for now,” the doctor said. “If you need anything at all, please let someone know.”
She heard him go, his footsteps echoing down the hall he disappeared into, leaving her to cry alone. Warm tears spilled down her cheeks as her guilt overwhelmed her. If she hadn’t have been so careless in the first place, the man would still be alive. She didn’t even know his name!
“Well, this just gets better and better,” another voice said beside her.
Hannah started, turning to look at the source of the noise, shocked to find she wasn’t alone.
Her heart skipped a beat, a mixture of relief and fear flooding through her as her eyes locked onto the tall man who sat in the chair by her bedside. His blond hair still immaculate, his blue eyes looking into hers.
Absolute terror seized her heart as she looked at the man who had saved her, her fingers gripping the bed sheets, pulling them around her protectively.
“You can see me?” he asked, shock and surprise filling his own voice.
She nodded once, and then she screamed.
Her scream tore through the room, shattering the relative silence he had been enjoying moments before. James slammed his palms against his ears in a desperate attempt to drown out the noise, but it was no use.
The girl continued to scream, looking at him as though she had seen a ghost.
He was confused. She was the first person who could see him—the
person who could see him. Since the accident, he had sat by the girl’s, Hannah’s, bedside, watching as nurses and doctors came and went, each of them completely unaware of his existence. He had tried to interact with the world around him, his hands passing through anything he tried to touch. Even though he hated to admit it, it seemed as though Hannah’s doctor had been right about him. He was dead.