He knew he had groaned because there was only him there and someone was making groaning noises.
He groaned again, this time with feeling. It was dark and he was hurting. And cold. He was cold and hurting. He was fairly sure that he was on his back and his eyes were closed. He groaned again as he tried to open them. They weren’t being cooperative. For whatever reason his eyelids refused to open and let some light in. He guessed it was still daylight. It was the summer and the nights came late. He didn’t know. His head was hurting too.
He tried to move his arms and although he could feel his muscles straining, his arms seemed to be pinned down. No matter how hard he tried or how much he wriggled, he just could not move his arms. He tried to wriggle his fingers. There was some movement but again, they seemed to be an unknown force preventing them from moving freely.
He groaned again. His own voice sounded muffled in his own ears.
He tried not to panic, tried to control his breathing. In. Out. In. Out.
That’s it, he thought. Nice and steady. He tried to ignore the fact that breathing was painful; it was as if a person was sitting on his chest making it difficult to draw precious air in. Not only that, he noticed that something was covering his mouth, a fabric of some sort. He explored it with his tongue, pressing it past sore lips and tasting the metallic tang of blood in his mouth. Yes, something soft was covering his mouth. It wasn’t making his already strained breathing anymore difficult, but he wondered why it was there.
He noticed that he was getting colder. He could feel the chill creep slowly up his legs.
He felt tired but was afraid to go to sleep. He was slowly losing his battle against panicking. He didn’t know what was happening. Was this normal? Surely not, he thought. He was tired though. Maybe he would take a short rest. He would probably feel better for it and maybe a little stronger. Pity it was so chilly, he thought as he slowly drifted into unconsciousness.
* * *
It was a beautiful day. The sky was a perfect light blue with just a few soft, white wisps of cloud. There was a soft, warm breeze; an infrequent relief from the stifling heat.
Ben checked his watch. It was just past twelve in the afternoon and his week was over. It was time for the weekend and a chance to see his wife. He had been working away from home for a year now, often returning on the weekends but sometimes work would interfere and he would work through. Not that he complained. He loved his job. His colleagues at work were all great fun to work with and the work itself, although strenuous and sometimes infuriating, was very rewarding.
For the last two years, Ben had been employed at the chief Intelligence instructor at the depot of the Army Intelligence Corps. It wasn’t a job he wanted at first and after a few tumultuous few weeks, he thought that he would never be able to do it. It took a lot of hard work for him to settle into the job. His predecessor and now his boss, Dave, had a completely different teaching style to Ben. His hardest task was trying to change the preconceptions of his new staff. Ben was a perfectionist whereas Dave had just assumed the same standards of his predecessor that were, by Ben’s standards, too low.
A lot of changes had taken place since the last course that had just graduated. His staff needed to understand the standards that he wanted the students, and in some respects, they themselves needed to achieve. He wasn’t happy with the original course but he didn’t have the time to change it all before the new squad was due to start. The first course was going to be his baptism by fire. Eight weeks of long hours marking papers, preparing lessons and trying to get his students to think, had been like a drug to Ben. He loved it. Never before had he had so much satisfaction from something. He had been determined to make the course as good as possible and over the past two years he had nearly achieved that goal. The two courses he was responsible for, one for the recruits and the other for the corporals that wanted to advance in rank, would never be perfect but they were pretty damn good, if he said so himself.
Dave walked into Ben’s office just as he was tidying some papers away and preparing to leave for the weekend.
Leaning lazily on the doorframe Dave asked “Off home this weekend?”
“Damn right!” replied Ben, looking up and seeing his long time friend.
Ben met Dave in 1989 when they were both going through training at the former home of the Intelligence Corps in Ashford, Kent. Ben’s had first met Dave was whilst a corporal was bawling Dave out for some reason or another. As recruits, they just had to stand to attention and take whatever the corporals dished out. Ben was a squad ahead of Dave and was on his way to use the phone when he heard the commotion. By the time Ben got to where Dave was still standing at attention, giving the corporal’s receding back the finger, it was all over. Dave turned to Ben and smiled and then nodded toward where the corporal had disappeared and called him a few choice names.
As friends, they hit it off immediately. They met up again, after training, in Northern Ireland and cemented their friendship. They had a lot in common, from fast cars and bikes to the age-old army tradition of getting completely drunk as often as possible. Although Ben had served longer than Dave, Ben had the habit of opening his mouth before thinking and that had upset a great many people, especially those people who happened to be his commanding officers. Dave had discovered diplomacy and it had paid off. His promotion ahead of Ben was only to be expected but Ben knew that he only had himself to blame and it certainly hadn’t affected their friendship.
“Damn. I was hoping we could go out to the bike show in Skeggy.”
One passion they both shared was riding; fast bikes and empty roads. It was generally agreed amongst themselves that Dave was the better rider but only because he took more risks and showed absolutely no fear. Ben on the other hand was not as confident and was not inclined to take any risks due to a severe scare he had experienced a few years before. That didn’t really matter though. When the pair went off riding together it was like a competition, each trying to outdo the other. Ben had gotten used to losing that particular competition!
“Not this weekend mate. Ruth hasn’t seen me in weeks and if I’m not careful she’ll find a lodger!”
Dave laughed. “Well, I guess I ride there alone then. On my own, no one to talk to…
Ben interrupted him before he could go on. “Oh shut up whining! You’ll do just fine without me and will probably get there a lot faster too! And since when did we chat when riding anywhere?”
“True. You do slow me down.”
Dave and Ben laughed and Ben admitted that he was a tad slower than Dave.
“Coming for a smoke before you leave?” Dave asked.
“Sure. I’m done here, let’s go.”
Ben locked his office, passed the keys to Dave as they headed down the corridor to the outside smoking area. Dave looked from the bunch of keys in his hands to Ben, questioningly.
“Well, seeing as you’re staying later than me, you can lock those away for me” Ben said, grinning.
Laughing, they continued down to the smoking area.
* * *
Am I awake?
I must be, I’m thinking to myself, he thought.
His thoughts were hazy and he barely remembered the last time he woke. He was cold. He couldn’t feel his legs and there was no response from his arms. It was still dark and he remembered that he couldn’t open his eyes. His head had stopped hurting but everything appeared dreamlike as if he wasn’t fully awake but in that comfortable stage between just being awake and sleeping. His thoughts wandered and he had to fight to concentrate.
What the hell is going on?
He tried to speak but the only sound that came from his mouth was a barely perceptible squeak. He tried again with the same results.
He was definitely scared now. Something is wrong, he determined but for some reason he just didn’t know what. He couldn’t remember anything and that was the worst part. If only he could remember how he came to be in this situation.
His mind wandered again and this time he failed to retain control of his thoughts. Colours swirled in his mind and abstract images appeared and disappeared without him really seeing them. The colours got darker until he finally passed out again. He stopped thinking and didn’t dream.
* * *
Dave threw his cigarette end into the large tin they used to keep the smoking area tidy. Ben had already left and was heading back to his room to prepare for his ride home.
Dave was a little disappointed that Ben wouldn’t be coming with him to the bike show and he briefly considered cancelling his trip and just staying in Chicksands over the weekend. It wasn’t as if there wasn’t any work to do. Since his promotion his workload has increased dramatically as he had two schools to oversee. Not only that, he had to ensure that he kept the prying officers at bay lest they make uneducated suggestions as to how better the courses he ran. He had deflected flak from Ben often enough; officers were a pain!
Deciding that he wasn’t going to stay at work any longer, he locked the back door and began checking that the school was locked tight for the weekend. Even though it was a military school and all the students were soldiers, when they got drunk dares were always made and somebody was always stupid enough to try and do some mischief inside if allowed to. It didn’t happen very often and when it did it usually resulted in some poor fool being given his marching orders, either being discharged from the army or transferred to some other branch.
Locking the final door and pocketing the keys, Dave walked back to the accommodation block. He decided that he would ride up to Hull this afternoon and find a B&B to stay in over the weekend. It was a glorious afternoon and the ride promised to be a good one. That thought in mind, Dave increased his pace, eager to get going.
Locking the door to his room, Ben put the key in his ‘bum bag’ and did the zip up. Grabbing his backpack off the floor, he slid it on and meticulously did up the clips, tightening the straps where necessary. Finally, helmet in hand; he walked down the stairs and to the car park where his bike was standing.
The Yamaha FJR1200 was described as a ‘Sports Tourer’ but was actually more tourer than sports. That’s not to say it couldn’t move if he wanted it to. If he was mad enough, the bike could take him past 140 mph quite comfortably. Ben was neither mad nor keen to go that fast and preferred to take it nice and easy. It was safer and, for him, a lot more enjoyable than just racing along the roads.
Settling himself on the bike, Ben pulled his neck scarf up as far as his nose, put his ear buds in and then slid his helmet on. Securing the straps, Ben started the bike and was instantly thrilled by the low rumbling of the engine. The vibrations of the bike were transmitted up his entire body and he instantly became one with the bike.
Pressing his left foot down and putting the bike in gear, he kicked the bike stand up, accelerated out of the car park and onto the main road leading out of the camp. Slowing a little at the main gate while the guard lifted the barrier, Ben nodded to them as thanks as he rode out of the camp and up the hill toward the main road that would take him away from his place of work for a few days. He was glad to be out of there. Glad to be going home and looking forward to what promised to be a lovely ride home.
Not too far behind, Dave pressed the ignition button on his Honda CBR600. Although it had half the engine size of Ben’s FJR, the nippy little Honda was designed for racing. It was a purebred sports bike, nimble and fast. It was also half the size of Ben’s bike, which was a bit of a bonus as Dave wasn’t particularly endowed in the height department. Dave wasn’t able to buy a big bike because he couldn’t get his feet on the floor when he sat on them. None of that mattered, though, as the CBR was perfect for him. It may have been half the size of Ben’s bike but it was twice as fast!
Unlike Ben, Dave wasn’t as meticulous when it came to dressing. His all in one leather riding gear was simple to put on and he never bothered with ear buds. He loved to hear the high-pitched roar of his bike’s engine and the wind rushing against him. It was summer and he liked the cool air rushing up into his helmet. Riding in leathers when it was this hot was going to be uncomfortable, as the air didn’t penetrate the leather but having a little air on his face made it better than unbearable!
Dave didn’t care about any of that as he put the bike into gear and roared toward the main gate. The high-pitched scream from his exhaust pierced the air as he raced through the gates, on toward Bedford and the road to the M1. Although Dave wasn’t keen on motorway riding, it did offer the opportunity to open the throttle and enjoy a bit of speed. Grinning in anticipation, Dave accelerated through the junction, reveling in the freedom and the exhilaration riding a bike endowed upon its rider. He was looking forward to his weekend in Skegness.
Although Ben didn’t have any motorway riding to do, he did have a few towns and villages to navigate. Riding on a Friday afternoon amid all the rush-hour traffic was a challenge unto itself. Everybody was keen to get home and a lot of drivers took scant notice of motorcyclists resulting in Ben having to concentrate more. That notwithstanding, he was enjoying the ride and the feeling of freedom it gave.
Ben had just passed through the last of the major towns, Luton and Dunstable. He was now only ten miles from home. The rest of the way would be country roads that were usually clear of traffic. It was these final miles that Ben enjoyed the most. The winding roads in the middle of the countryside allowed him to ride low around the bends and open the throttle a little. Although the maximum speed limit was only sixty miles per hour, Ben rarely exceeded that. He preferred to ride at around fifty which offered him a little more safety and caution. However, they were country roads and he had to be careful, as you never knew what you could encounter. He had once nearly ridden into a cow that had inadvertently strayed onto the road. That had been a close call and one he recalled with amusement nowadays.
Ben had just crossed the bridge past New Mill and joined the Icknield Way as the road narrowed and meandered toward the Tring roundabout. As he approached a left hand bend he slowed a little to forty miles per hour. It was a blind bend and Ben had always been cautious here.
As Ben crested the apex and was able to see around the bend, his blood ran cold. On the right side of the road was a horse and rider and on the left side, his side, was a truck, overtaking the horse. There was no way to avoid a collision; there wasn’t time. The only thought that entered his head was “this is going to hurt!”
* * *
It hadn’t taken long for Dave to grow tired of motorway riding. There was only so much undertaking a person could do before he got bored of it. Deciding to skip the motorway and the slow moving Friday traffic, Dave turned off the M1 and headed toward Loughborough and then onto the A46. He was hoping the ‘A’ road would offer better riding than the motorway had, not that it would be difficult as motorways tended to be straight!
It hadn’t taken long before he had eaten up the miles and wasn’t too far from his destination. The ride had been both thrilling and slightly boring all at once. He would be glad for the break and a nice, long shower. He had been slowly basting in his leathers for several hours now and the thought of a nice cool shower made him twist the bike’s throttle just a little more. He had just turned off the A52 onto Wrath Lane, a short cut that he knew would avoid the traffic in Skegness town centre.
The road was narrow but fairly straight. There was only one bend of significance and that was an easy right-hander that he had taken at speed many times before. Just as he approached the bend Dave slowed a little and prepared to lower the bike. As he dropped and turned the bike the sight in front of him chilled him to the bone. A combine harvester, an immense vehicle that took up all the space the narrow lane offered, was just at the apex of his turn.
There would be no way to avoid a collision and barely time to think of a way to avoid one. Dave just muttered “Oh shit!”
* * *
It was some time later before someone noticed the rider in a ditch on the side of the road. The rider’s bike was on top of him and looked to be in a sorry state. The motionless rider was stuck underneath the bike. Ironically it was another rider that had noticed the wrecked bike, stopped and flagged down a truck with three workmen inside. Three of them lifted the bike off the rider whilst the fourth called for an ambulance.
Once the wreckage of the bike had been removed the seriousness of the injuries to the biker became clear. There was a lot of blood around the neck and helmet; some of it staining the surrounding nettles a deep crimson. One checked for a pulse. There was one but it was faint; very slow and very faint.
* * *
He awoke again. It was still dark but he was vaguely aware of something happening around him. He seemed to be floating; his thoughts scattered and meaningless. He didn’t feel anything but the cold. He was very cold. He tried saying something but his voice wasn’t cooperating. He tried to muster some inner strength and tried to concentrate, tried focusing his thoughts. He couldn’t. He was tired. Very tired. He decided that it was time to sleep. He needed sleep. He was so tired, time to sleep.
* * *
By the time the paramedics arrived the rider was dead. There was nothing they could do apart from lift the corpse from the ditch and take it to the hospital. The police, who had arrived with the paramedics, as was normal for a road traffic accident, could see that something large had hit the bike. So, it was a hit and run; a cowardly crime that had resulted in a needless death. Another statistic. Even though they had no idea who it was yet, they felt sorrow and sympathy. It was always sad to see a lifeless body of the recently deceased. He was probably someone who was looking forward to the weekend with friends or family. The police would investigate; try to find out who had been responsible. It would be a long shot and they would probably never know who had hit and killed another human being. If only the other driver had stopped the rider would have had a good chance at surviving. If only.
* * *
Arriving at his destination, he kicked down the bike stand and killed the engine. The sudden quiet was welcoming, as was the fresh air as he removed his helmet. It had been a nice ride and another near miss that could have ended in disaster. His relief at getting here was palpable. It had been a good ride apart from that. Just as he was getting off the bike he wondered if his friend had had a good ride to where he was going. He guessed he would find out on Monday when they were both back at work.
He guessed wrong.