Time Heals… – Chapter Five

What’s the worst that can happen? He could hurt me, a lot. He could take a scalpel from the operating room and tear me to pieces. Wouldn’t even put it past him to do that. And I wouldn’t blame him either. If I hadn’t already placed all the blame on my Dad then I would probably have already started the cut, if not finished it.

Casey drove us back to her house and then we got out the car. I hugged her goodbye, rejected her offer to get a drink inside and got in the driver’s seat. Better to get this over with. It’s barely noon, I have more than enough time to get to Wexgate. It’s about an hour and a half away from Casey’s house. I could just go there and then come back. Avoid Westmeadow altogether, but Casey thinks there is something there. I don’t share the same optimism.

I switch the radio on and off more times than I can count on the way. I can’t stand the silence, but I also can’t stand the noise. I just don’t want to be here for this. I don’t want to let Casey down, and I suppose I’ve always known I’ll go back eventually. It’s not like I could avoid it forever. I’ve thought about it before, on long sleepless nights. It’s even been tempting a couple of times, especially after I published that big article. It would have been brilliant to go back and rub that in Dad’s face, but I didn’t. I couldn’t.

I pull into a couple of different service stations, both for the same reason. To delay my inevitable return. I can’t imagine the town has changed at all. Both times I got out of the car and paced around for a minute or two and then got back in and continued driving, wanting to turn back. I could just say there’s no story. She wouldn’t believe me, even though that’s the truth. I don’t even need to go back to see that. She knows it too, I’m sure of it. I suppose she thinks forcing me to go back will make me grow up a little bit. I suppose she thinks I’m just falling into the same old trap that my Dad did. Getting stuck in life and never really going anywhere. I need to just get on with this. I’ll drive straight to Westmeadow and just drive around. Just seeing the place will help, I’m sure.

The same old chewing gum flooded streets. The broken windows on every other house. The dark windows of the local pub, The Brown Bear, not letting me see in to check if Dad is inside. The old bus stop pole that’s bent and pointing towards the lower school. I suppose it would be a primary school now. It’s all going to be exactly the same. I’ll get that out of my system, and then I’ll go and see Ryan. He’ll beat me up, or shout at me. At best he’ll forgive me, making me feel even worse about it, and then I’ll come back. I don’t even need to stay the night. I’ll transfer Casey’s money back and tomorrow I’ll start on the article about how some towns never change. Never catch up with the times and that will be the end of it. I’ll find myself a proper job and actually start living.

I drive past Northampton about an hour later, and head towards Westmeadow. It’s a good thing I know roughly which way I’m going. I haven’t seen a sign for it yet. Wexgate yes, but not Westmeadow. Not that it’s that surprising. Westmeadow is pretty much just a glorified village. There is nothing noteworthy about it. It was a boring place to grow up and is probably still a boring place to live. It’s a town that will eventually just fall apart as people move away and no one will remember it.

The sun is still high up in the sky, even though it feels like days have passed since I left. I’ve decided I’m going to drive around Westmeadow first. I have more than enough times. Hours, more than enough time. I’m just going to drive down the main street a couple of times. The shops, the houses. See if I recognise anyone, and spot how much the place has changed. Then I’ll go, and drive passed the old house. See if Dad still lives there. I don’t know how I’ll figure that out without knocking on the door, which I’m not going to kid myself into thinking I’ll actually do that.

After that I’ll head into Wexgate and get something to eat. I’ll probably still have more than enough time to just see what I remember there and maybe find some place to stay. I don’t want to stay in Westmeadow, I know that much. The original plan of driving back down to London tonight is already out of the window. I’m already tired, with a splitting headache. I know it’s not going to be a good idea. I’ll just find some cheap place to stay and then drive back in the morning. A good night sleep will probably do me a world of good. New surroundings.

I can’t remember the sun ever being this bright. I know that’s stupid, but it just seems like everything is a degree brighter than normal. The heat burning my face is welcoming and I crack the window a little just to get a taste of that fresh air. When was the last time I was this far out of London? God it hasn’t been since

I almost want to scream out the window. Just scream and never stop, let out a deafening howl out onto the M1. It feels so good to be out of London, as if some kind of smothering blanket has been lifted.  It feels so good to be moving about. The wind rattling around inside the car with me, waving my clothes, cooling me down. The radio belting out songs from my past. I guess Casey set up a playlist. I can’t help but to smile at everything.

I leave the M1 and start following the signs towards Wexgate, hoping that I’ll start recognising the place soon. I don’t have any data on my phone and can’t really use the maps on it. I drive past the large fields, as animals graze. After so many years in London, it’s hard to believe that roads can be this empty. Just me and the animals, as if some kind of plague has wiped out humanity. It’s refreshing not to hear the drum of traffic and to be able to breathe the fresh air, rather than fumes.

I drive past the turning to Wexgate and continue on down to Westmeadow. I know exactly where I’m going, I didn’t think I would, but everything has just slotted back into place. My memories all aligned to show me the way back home. I’m hungry, it’s only a little past noon and I’m already hungry. I had fish and chips for breakfast. I suppose I haven’t really eaten in the last couple of days. Just some scraps that have been left in the house. I don’t really want to get anything to eat in Westmeadow so that will just have to wait. I’ll leave around three, only a couple of hours away and then get something to eat.

The sun seems to be setting early today, as dark clouds take over the skies. It’s a little past one in the afternoon. It came out of nowhere. There was a chill in the air, and I had to close the window. The sun softens a little and then the sky started to darken. At first, I thought it was just the trees. They look like they hadn’t been cut in quite a long time and were looming over the car as it twisted down the small road.

Rain starts to pelt down on the windscreen, flooding my sight before I have a chance to start the wipers. Jesus, where did this come from? It was so sunny a minute ago, does God hate me? He can’t hate me, he doesn’t exist. Probably shouldn’t even think that, just in case. I hate driving in the rain, never had much practice. Never had a car, only learnt with Casey back in Uni at an intensive course. We shared one for a while in the second year, but I didn’t want to pay in the third. Didn’t think I needed a car in London with the underground and everything. Had nothing to do with the girl I was hanging around.

Slowing down and taking my time, I still make it to the Westmeadow sign by half one. I’m starving now. I could just pop into the shop when I get there and grab a sandwich. I’m sure I won’t bump into anyone I used to know. God, no one would remember me anyway. Not a chance in hell. I barely recognise myself in the mirror these days. Much shorter hair, receding hairline to boot. The chubbiness in my cheeks has disappeared and there’s a sense of constant tiredness in my eyes.

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An Overdue Update

It’s been quite a while since I posted anything on here. Other things keep on getting in the way and time moves faster than I’d like. I’m still writing Time Heals… though. Over 19000 words through it and have around 5 or 6 chapters to upload here. The next one will be coming tomorrow. I can promise that. I’ll try to stick to my one a week, every Friday, routine.

Writing has been slow over the last couple of months, but I’ve been doing little bits here and there. At least once a week I’ve sat down and written at least 250 words. It’s not much but it’s progress. My main aim at the moment is to get that to be at least 300 words a day, 6 days a week. I’m sure that’s achievable with work and everything else.

I just finished The Gunslinger, the first book in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. I enjoyed it, although for such a short book, it does feel bloated and a slog to get through at points. I’m looking forward to reading the next ones, but first I have Lock In by John Scalzi to read. I’m a chapter through it, and enjoying it so far.

That’s all for now, just a quick update so you know I’m still writing and the more of Time Heals… will be coming soon.

Thanks for reading,

Ashley

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Time Heals… – Chapter Four

My earliest memory is my parents taking me into Northampton for the fair during some school break. I have snippets from before then, but that’s the earliest concrete memory I have. My mum drove us, Dad never passed his test. We played some games, won some prizes and ate some candy-floss. But that isn’t why I remember it. I remember it because of how quickly Dad turned. I know now that it was probably drink that did it, but back then. God I still remember how scared I was, hiding behind the bear Mum won for me. Holding it so tightly on the way back home, hoping I would fall asleep and wake up the next day. I had nightmares about that day for the first couple of months at Uni.

Casey woke me up one night, late November. She sat on the edge of the bed, and gently shook me while whispering my name. He soft words carried on the early winter chill that was flowing in the open window. I’ve never slept well unless I’m cold.

“What’s wrong?” She asked when my eyes opened.

“Nothing, what are you doing?”

“I could hear you moving around, saying something. I couldn’t make out what. You were having a bad dream.”

“That’s not that weird. I don’t even remember what I was dreaming about,” I lied.

“Yes you do. Come on Chris, we both know you remember. What is it? I’m worried about you.”

“Don’t be, it’s nothing.”

Instead of walking away, or at the very least moving around the other side of the double bed and sitting there, Casey moved me over and sat where I was previously laying down.

“So tell me,” she said. “Everything. No matter how unimportant it is.”

“I don’t really want too.”

“I know you don’t, but that’s okay. Nothing you say will ever leave this room. I promise that. You won’t ever have to worry about it again. A problem shared is a problem halved.”

“I don’t believe in that.”

“I know, neither do I. But still, just tell me what the dream was about.”

“It’s a memory, more than a dream. It’s twisted a little, and I was young at the time but I still know it happened.”

“What do you mean?”

“My Mum drove us to this fair in Northampton, during the school holidays. It was on a Saturday I think. On this park near the town centre.”

“That sounds like a nice memory.”

“Yeah, it was. But that’s not why I remember it. I think that would have drifted off like most of my childhood if that’s how it stayed. On the way home, as my Mum was driving us back my Dad got angry about something. I don’t remember what. But it was like he just snapped. Shouting, and screaming. I don’t like thinking about it.”

“You can tell me, I know it’s not easy. Don’t worry. You don’t need to tell me anything.”

We went around in circles for a little while, neither of us feeling tired enough to go to bed. As the clock struck three in the morning, the conversation had moved onto so many different things at that point, there was a nice silence. Both of us sitting there, back against the bed’s head-board and that’s when I told her. I told her about my Dad’s drinking. The way he used to hit Mum, hit me when I tried to stop it when I was little older. The way they used to argue and then make up, and the amount of tears shed by everyone.

Casey stayed quiet during all of it, she just listened as I told my stories. Everything I could remember. About how one time Dad came home from work early, suspended because he was drunk on shift. There would be a meeting about it. I was around ten at the time. There was an argument about money which resulted in me screaming as loud as I could with tears drowning my face as he struck her. I didn’t know what to do. I was old enough to know it was wrong and that I didn’t like it. I screamed loud enough that one of the neighbours called the police. Everything was calm by the time they came around and everything was denied. I’ll never know why she believed his apologies, and his lies about stopping, but that didn’t matter.

A couple of years later when I was twelve, Mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I remember being told, sitting in the living room with a fresh bag of sweets. My parents standing above me, never seeming so tall, blocking out the sun coming through the window. I don’t remember exactly how they told me, I don’t think I understood at first but when it hit me, it hit hard.

Dad stopped drinking then. He got his job back, and everything seemed to be getting better. There was just Mum’s problem hanging around us. People spoke to me differently at school, I was going to a school in Wexgate. A few of us were. We had to get the bus everyday. It wasn’t the longest drive probably twenty minutes, but it felt like a lifetime. It felt even longer when people didn’t want to talk to you any more.

Time moved quickly back then, and soon enough I was standing in Holy Trinity Hospital. We had to get the same bus I got to school, into Wexgate and then a few minutes walk down to the hospital. I knew what was happening, I didn’t want to know. I didn’t speak the entire time. I was told to hug Mum but I didn’t want to. I didn’t want for this to be over, even though I couldn’t do anything about it. I hugged her and started crying, silently. After I sat in the corridor while Dad spoke to Mum. A little while later he came out saying it was over, and there were tears in his eyes. At the time, hell probably even now, I blamed him for this. I remembered hearing in school that falling over could cause cancer and that made me think of her screams as he pushed her down stairs or slammed her head against the wall.

After the funeral it seemed like he had changed. He stopped drinking for quite a while, kept his job and didn’t raise his voice in a while. We were distant and it was difficult, but I think that’s to be expected. It didn’t take long though, a few months before things started to slip. It started with him not coming home straight away from work. I was making my own dinners. Someone found out, and that started a big fight. I didn’t tell anyone, they figured it out. I was doing everything at home. By thirteen I was cleaning, doing the washing and sorting out my own food. Normally stealing money from his wallet while he slept. I think he knew. He must have, but he was still furious when he found out. Then he lost his job. I don’t even know how we kept the house at first. He started doing odd jobs for friends, most of it probably not legal.

And then Little Campy happened. Ryan’s little brother, Timothy. That’s when things really went downhill.

I decided then that I would leave Westmeadow as soon I could, without looking back, and never come back. I would never set foot in that town again, or Wexgate. And yet here I am. Sitting in the car, eating chips, knowing that I will be back there in a couple of hours.

I’d already told Casey everything about Westmeadow, apart from Timothy Campbell. Everything, but that. I still didn’t want to tell her. I suppose I would at some point, she had a way of getting things out of me. It’s not that I’d forgotten, I could never forget. I just didn’t want to ever admit that it happened. Thinking it is one thing, but saying it out loud would make it real.

“So how come you never told me about Ryan?” Casey says casually, while gathering a chip on her wooden fork.

“No reason, I just forgot about him.” I wasn’t about to tell her now. That secret can remain with me for a little while longer.

“Really? You know, I can tell when you’re lying right?”

“I know, but I’m not lying. He’s a couple of years older than me. I just don’t like thinking about the past. You know,” I started, but never finished the sentence.

“I know you don’t. And I’m sorry that I’m asking you to do this, I know it’s not easy. I just have a hunch that there’s something there. I know you get that. I honestly can’t find out anything about the town from the last ten years. Nothing about car crashes, accidents, robbery or even something good like new buildings or whatever. It’s almost completely forgotten.”

“I’m sure there are plenty of towns like that.”

“Obviously, but not ones where no one who lives there has an online presence at all. Ryan said he moved to Wexgate when he turned twenty-two and he thinks something strange is going on.”

“Fine, I’ll meet up with him. What’s the worst that can happen?”

 

Thanks for reading,

Ashley

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Time Heals… – Chapter Three

I live near Earl’s Court in London. In Dave’s basement. Casey drove us down the long streets, past convention centres, tube stations, shops and restaurants. I didn’t know where we were going. I was just going along for the ride, there would be plenty of time to get out of this. I’m not going. I was defiant before, now I’m pure stubborn.

“Are those in your size?” Casey asks after about five minutes of silence.

“Are what in my size?”

“The clothes in the back. I don’t know if you’ve gotten fatter since Uni.”

“I probably have but,” I reach back into the back seat and grab a bag. “I think these will do. Seriously though, stop it. I don’t need looking after. I’ll do your story, just leave me alone afterwards.”

“I’m not going to leave you alone. You’re a good writer, and you deserve to be part of my website.”

“Case, I’m not a kid. Leave it alone. I’ll make my own way. I’m not sure I even want to do this anymore. I’m no good at it.”

She sighs as we reach a red light.

“Seriously Chris. Grow up. You know you’re good. I know you’re good. You’re just lazy. Always waiting for someone else to put your foot forward for you. It’s just not going to happen that way. You always wanted this, you’re just lazy. You think that everything is just going to land on your lap and you don’t have to work for it. If you wanna give it up, fine. But what are you going to do then? Nothing. Just bitch and whine about things not going your way because you’re not willing to put the effort in. Seriously Chris grow up. You’re nearly thirty and haven’t really done anything worth anything. It’s time you get on with it, whether it’s with this or something else. I don’t want you to fail. I believe in.”

She stops speaking and breaks eye contact as someone behind us beeps their horn. Focusing on the road she taps the accelerator and leaves that moment behind.

We drive in silence for a couple of minutes. I try not to move at all, not wanting to let the plastic bag make a sound. I think I know where we’re going. Back in Uni we used to have this chip shop down the road from the shared house. We would go there every Friday throughout the first and second year. During the third year I met Christie, I didn’t see a whole lot of Casey then.

“I love this place,” Casey slurred one night during freshers week. “I knew I made the right choice coming here. I wanna eat here every night. And now I can. No more parents telling me when and what to eat. I can do whatever the hell I want.”

“Come on Casey,” I said, only knowing her a couple of days. “Lets go home. You’re gonna drop that.”

“No I’m not,” she says while swirling her plastic tray around spilling chips on the floor. “I don’t care about them. This fish. I think I love it. Like seriously love it.”

“Guys, come on. Don’t make a mess. Leave if you’re not going to eat here,” the guy behind the counter grunted.

“Sorry. I think she had too much to drink.”

“I didn’t drink that much. You did.”

“No I didn’t. Come on, Casey. Let’s get you back to the house.”

“Do I look ugly when I eat?”

“No. You look ugly all the time.”

“You’re mean. I wanna go back home, I don’t want to see you again until your not mean. Meanie.”

“Come on.”

She had drank so much. It started as a house get together, to get to know each other. We were all first years. We met up in the living room and introduced ourselves and said where we were from. I said I was from Northampton. Which wasn’t true. I’m from Westmeadow which is about thirty miles away from Northampton. It’s a tiny town, not much bigger than a village. There is a slightly larger town nearby, Wexgate, which is where the hospital Holy Trinity stands. Westmeadow doesn’t have a hospital.  I told myself that I wasn’t lying because I had to get a bus to Northampton before going on down to London.

That was the first time I spoke to Casey. We got on quite well, very quickly, my first proper friend as an adult.

“I’m going to eat here every day. You can’t stop me,” she said once we were outside, as if she’d forgotten I’d just upset her.

“I won’t, you can eat there every day, but how about we both eat there every week? For the whole of University. No matter what happens. We can talk about our week. Help each other out?”

“You mean it? Really. You mean it? I would love that. I think that’s the best thing you’ve ever said, like ever.”

It’s hard to believe that she would be the successful one out of the two of us. That over the next three years she would constantly outdo herself and I would fade away and let myself get stuck behind. I would find distractions from Uni and then eventually away from the chip shop. I didn’t even really stay in the house during the third year. There was always a party or someone’s sofa. Always something to make me feel like less of a failure compared to Casey.

She stood by me though, and helped me make it through. Even if we didn’t get dinner together any more, she wouldn’t let me fail myself. I almost wish she’d just let me fail. It would have been easier in the long run. I’m not destined for anything great. I should be happy just getting away from home.

“Casey, I’m sorry. I know you mean well. I’ll do your story. You’ve helped me a lot over the years, the least I can do is go back there. God knows what you think I’ll find, but I’ll do it. Don’t worry. Are you sure Ryan Campbell wants to talk to me though? Things didn’t end well there before.”

“Good. I’m glad you’re on board. I don’t know what you’ll find back there, I just have a good feeling about this. It could be nothing, but it could be something. Either way I’ll let you off the hook once it’s over. Even if there’s no story, and of course you don’t have to write it if it’s too difficult in the end. I don’t want to push you. And yes, Ryan would only talk to you. He emailed me through the site, and then I called him. He said he read your story and thought you could be the only one who would understand. Who is he anyway? You never mentioned him when you told me about your childhood.”

“I know. He’s someone I really didn’t want to ever think about again. It’s not a good story. I’ll tell you sometime, but not right now. I really don’t want to relive that right now, although god. I know I’m going to soon enough. No avoiding that now. I suppose there never was. Always going to creep up again at some point.”

“Jesus, Chris? What happened?”

“Case. I wish I could tell you, I really do. But I’m just not going to. Not right now. I really don’t want to have that conversation right now.”

“Okay, Chris. You keep it to yourself. I’m sure you’ve got your reason. What did you want? The usual?”

“You remember the order?”

“Of course. Small chips, pea cluster and a non-buttered roll. How could I forget. I ordered for you every week for like two years. Long time.”

“Thanks, I’ll wait here. We eating in the car? Right?”

“No, I thought we could break back into the old house, see what’s different.”

“You’ve always been so funny it hurts. You know that? I honestly can’t move at the moment with how much I’m laughing. Can you see? Ha. Ha. Ha.”

“Shut up.”

To be continued…

 

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Ready Player One and a Quick Update

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on here. I’m still writing, even if it’s not as much as I’d like. I’m about 13000 words through Time Heals… which really needs a new title. I’m going to be uploading the next chapter pretty soon, so catch up on chapter one and two.

The book is going well so far. I’m a little out of my comfort zone with it, which I suppose is a good thing. It’s a lot more grounded than anything I’ve written before and I’ve had to come at it from a different angle. Hopefully people like it, when it eventually gets uploaded.

I’ve just finished reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I really enjoyed it. It’s a fun read and I would recommend it. I don’t have much to say about it really. It was enjoyable and I’m going to read Cline’s other novel. The book shows an all too possible future and while the real world is depressing the VR world Oasis is full of pop culture references and fun. It’s well written and although it’s a little slow in the middle and very predictable, it’s still worth reading.

I’ve started re-watching Doctor Who from Christopher Eccleston’s series. I was a little hesitant about going back that far because memory changes things and I didn’t want to be disappointed. I was worried over nothing. It stands up today and is probably better than I remember. I’m older and can see the darkness behind the silliness of The Doctor, especially when I place it after John Hurt’s War Doctor. Only watched a few episodes but looking forward to watching more.

I really haven’t been up to much more. Writing, working, TV and sleeping. I just felt like I needed to write a post on here since it had been a while. I’ll get to work on uploading chapter three soon and you’ll be able to read it pretty soon. Hopefully one day I’ll stick to a schedule.

Thanks for reading,

Ashley

 

 

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