The sun has nearly set, with the fading orange glow being replaced by street lights. The wind rushes through everyone on the street, as people hug themselves and tighten their jackets. The scent of greasy takeaways and car fumes mix together and glide through the air, engulfing me as I walk towards the car. It’s almost like a more contained version of London. No where near as busy. Not a mad rush to get anywhere and everywhere. My footsteps echo along the emptying streets as I reach the car.
It’s starting to get late and people are starting to head home for the night. The comfort of warm radiators waiting for them. I need to find a place to stay. It’s probably going to have to be a hotel in Westmeadow. There isn’t any left in Wexgate, as much as I’ve looked on my phone.
Where’s my car? I’m sure this is the lay-by I parked in, but it’s empty. Where is it? It was here. Outside the betting shop. Come on. No one would have stolen that piece of crap. I pull the keys out of my pocket. Come on, this isn’t funny. Jesus Christ today has been all over the place.
“God damn it,” I shout to myself.
I half-skip, half-jog up to the betting shop and open the door.
“Hey,” I say to the guy behind the counter. “You notice a car outside? I parked up an hour ago, if that?”
“Yeah, the old banger? It went off about ten or so minutes ago.”
“Seriously? That was my car. For god’s sake.”
“You want me to call the police?”
“I can do it on my phone. It isn’t nine-nine-nine for this kind of thing is it?”
“No, it’s. one-oh-one.”
“Thanks, I’m going to call them now. Thanks mate.”
I go back outside and pull up my phone. God damn this day. This place is hell. I really am done with this whole part of the country now. When I’m back in London that’s it. I’m staying there.
I need to call Casey first. It’s her car. Not mine. She can deal with this. I don’t wanna have anything to do with this. Waste of my time.
“Hey,” Casey answers.
“Hey. Bad news. The car, it’s been stolen.”
“I left it outside while me and Ryan went to a coffee shop and then it’s not there. The guy inside a shop told me it was taken about ten or so minutes ago. I’m sorry.”
“This is very weird. It’s not your fault. It’s just one of those things, nothing you could have done. I’ll call the police and deal with it, you just stay put. They’re gonna need at least a statement. I’ll call you back if I hear anything.”
She hangs up without a good-bye. I start pacing, looking up at the sky. Why is this stuff always happening to me? Finally, things started looking up, I had a plan and now this.
Where am I going to stay tonight? Casey isn’t coming to pick me up. I can’t even get to Westmeadow. I’m not sure about the bus schedule anymore. I imagine it’s changed a little since the last time I was here. I want to scream, just give up and cry. The street is empty now. I just want to fall asleep somewhere. There’s an urge, pulling my hand towards my phone, that’s telling me to just call Ryan. He can give me somewhere to stay for the night, or at least some words of advice. But I don’t want to call him. Not yet. I don’t want to look completely pathetic.
I reach an ATM, just aimlessly meandering down the street, waiting for my phone to ring. Money. I have plenty now. It’s not mine, but it’s for me to use and I’ll consider this an emergency. Get a taxi to Westmeadow, claim it as a business expense. It’s not like Casey is expecting me to pay her back. I’m sure she would understand. It’s cold outside and I have nowhere to go. She hasn’t rang back yet, so I don’t know what to do. I could just get back to Westmeadow and wait for her call there. Get to that hotel, and take the offer of a free room and stay there for the night. By tomorrow, either I’ll have the car back. Or I won’t. Either way I’ll be able to make it back to London and get on with my life.
The story has completely escaped my mind. It’s not important any more. I just want to get back to my normal life. Away from all of this rubbish. I snap back to the real world and realise that I’ve already put my card in the machine. I tap my pin in and take out a hundred pounds. That’ll be enough I’m sure, probably a lot more. I could even tip them. Probably have enough left over for a drink when I get to Westmeadow as well. I deserve one.
The first cold drop of rain hits my face like a steel fist. I shudder and tightly close my eyes. I wish I would just wake up and be back in London. This whole day has been a nightmare. Why would I even agree to this stupidity. Who cares about Casey, she can get her own story. I don’t care about any of this. It means nothing to me, I gave up a long time ago on being a writer, I just need to find the other thing I want to do. It might take a me a little while, but I’ll get there. I’m going to use her money to go back to London, grab my things and leave. That will be the end of it. She won’t know where to find me, I’ll be lost in this country with nothing holding me back. Nothing to remind me of the past. A fresh start where no one knows who I am. I could do and be anything.
The ringing of my phone snaps me back to the world. I jump up a step to a doorway to get to cover. Don’t want to drown yet another phone. It’s Casey.
“Hey,” I answer.
“Hey, Chris. You haven’t left the area, have you?”
“No, why would I do that. I’m going to have to write a statement.”
“Yes, good. They’re going to get a statement from you, and also from the guy running the betting shop. After that, you need to find somewhere to sleep. I’ll come and pick you up tomorrow. I’m sorry about this. If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t even be down there.”
“Don’t be stupid. It’s not your fault. I’m sorry I lost your car. You don’t need to pick me up.”
“You didn’t want to go and now there you are, stuck in a different town. It’s not fair. I’ll pick you up tomorrow and I won’t hear another word about it.”
“How long do you think it’ll take the police to get here?”
“I don’t know honestly, it could be a while, it’s not like car thieves rank high on their priority I imagine.”
“Probably not,” I say and then sit down on the step. “It’s alright, I can see the betting shop from here, if they turn up tonight then I’ll see them. I won’t leave until they show.”
“Thanks, I know this is a pain.”
“It’s not a problem, and not your fault so don’t go blaming yourself.”
“It kind of is though, I’m the one who sent you there. How did your meeting with Ryan go?”
The rain starts to slow down, with only the odd drop falling here and there. The sun has completely gone from the sky, leaving the grey sky. Every other street light is on, brightening the street just enough to see. The lights that aren’t on have large posters stuck to them, I’m not close enough to read one but I can guess that it says they were turned off to save money or something to that effect. The wind has slowed as well, although it still scrapes across my face like sharp nails. I can just about see my breath as I breathe out, reminding me of the times I used to pretend I was smoking when I was a little kid in winter.
“Ryan was good,” I finally answer. “It wasn’t as awkward as I thought it would be.”
“And do we have a story?”
“I don’t know yet, but it is weird. Did he tell you?”
“Bits and pieces.”
“Well it’s just that everyone in Westmeadow, they’ve changed a lot. It used to be such a run-down wasteland. Full of backwards thinking people and violence. Now it’s completely different. I noticed it earlier when I passed through. It doesn’t really feel like the same town anymore. It seems newer, and almost fake. If I didn’t recognise some of the people I would have guessed they were all actors. It just didn’t feel right. I noticed, but didn’t think anything of it, but once I spoke to Ryan it started to add up. Something has happened there.”
“So there is a story.”
“I don’t know.”
“Sounds like there is.”
“I said I don’t know, and I meant it. It’s weird, but what am I supposed to say? The town became nice over night and no one noticed. I’ll head back there tomorrow and ask around. Maybe there is something weird going on, maybe there isn’t. I don’t think there’s a story though. What could it possibly be?”
“I don’t know aliens took over everyone who lives there, stole their skin and stay out of the news so they won’t get spotted, and then their single human survivor, or captive, commits suicide and they take him to the neighbouring hospital since they don’t know how to deal with it.”
“I didn’t ask about the suicide. I should have done, but it completely escaped my mind.”
“Seriously? That’s the one lead you had, and you didn’t even ask about it?”
“I completely forgot. I’ll call him tomorrow and ask for details.”
“Yeah, I think that’s a good idea. Well done, you could still make it as a reporter with skills like that.”
“Don’t you want to hear your praises?”
“When will they get here?”
“It’s been like five minutes, I wouldn’t get your hopes up just yet.”
“I know, but I can dream.”
“Ha. Sure you can. So you actually went back to Westmeadow? How was that? Did you run into anybody you used to know? What about your Dad?”
I sighed. I’d put that at the back of my mind and I’m not quite ready to unlock that door quite yet.
“It was strange. The place looks completely different and yet the same. Fran’s café is still there. I’d forgotten about that place.”
“Nice, anyone you recognised?”
“A couple, an ex and a couple of others just wondering around. Nothing too intense.”
“An ex? And that wasn’t tense? So, who was she. Tell me everything.”
I knew that would distract her, so I wouldn’t have to talk about my Dad for a little while.
“It wasn’t intense as it’s been ten years and we’re not children any more. It wasn’t anything serious just one of those school things. I think we both knew it wasn’t serious back then. Today proved that. She said she could get me a room at the hotel if I was staying in the town.”
“Nice. Sounds like you to sponge a night somewhere.”
“I wasn’t going to do it. I really wasn’t. It’s just that, I couldn’t find a place in Wexgate. All of the hotels are fully booked. And it’s not like price is an issue it’s your money not mine.”
“What a gentleman.”
“What? Expenses are real.”
“You’re on thin ice already, and I think the car took your expenses to the limit. I wasn’t expecting to lose that.”
“Hey, that wasn’t my fault and they could find it.”
“Come on be realistic they’re not going to find it. It’s an old crappy car. It’s probably already on fire in some woods knowing the area you come from.”
“Hey, I never did that.”
“Yeah but it happened didn’t it. You told me you saw cars on fire.”
“Yeah, once more that I did. Scumbag and your scummy town.”
We laugh and the rain starts again. I can’t believe this weather. The rain drops are few and far between, slowly descending to the ground. The street lights reflect out of the pools that have formed in the pot holes, creating an other-worldly effect. I used to believe there was another world on the other side of mirrors and water.
“God, I hate rain, but I love that smell.”
“It hasn’t stopped raining today. You know they believe the reason we like that smell is because ages ago we needed water to survive and that smell meant water.”
“That’s crap,” I start. “Who is ‘they’ ? and how would they know that?”
“No,” I interrupt. “It’s some stupid thing someone shared online and you believe because you believe everything you read, regardless of evidence.”
“Jesus, Chris. Got your head stuck somewhere today?”
“I’m just saying it like it is. Believe what you wanna believe.”
I wish I wasn’t me. Even before saying it, I knew it was the wrong thing to say. I knew it would just cause problems. I don’t even know why I open my mouth. Should really just be used to it now. Causing trouble, always pissing people off. Always having to shout my mouth off even though there isn’t a need. I used to tell myself that it wouldn’t happen again, and then before I know it I’m there. Stuck in another awkward conversation, knowing I’m the reason everyone feels like crap.
“It’s reasons like this, that you don’t have any friends.”
“I know,” I answer. I’d been thinking the same thing.
“At least you still have me, I won’t be running away any time soon.”
“Oh the police are just turning up now. I’ve got to go. I’ll call you once I know what’s sorted.”
“Okay, good luck. Speak soon. Bye.”
I hang up the phone and my hand drops to my lap. There’s no one coming I just don’t want to talk right now. It’s stopped trying to rain. The clouds have covered the sky, leaving no room for the moon to peak through. I can’t even see a single star. Not that I would be able to with all these lights. There isn’t a soul about. A car doesn’t drive past. The world is still and quiet. I shift on the step I’m sitting on and wait in silence.