When nothing goes right.
|It was one of those nights. Alex had reset the alarm the previous night, bleary eyed, not noticing that the time was a.m. not p.m. When he finally surfaced, the moon was already up and there was no time to have that extra slice for breakfast. He was kicking the front door shut behind him before he remembered his keys. Hesitating, he was lost. It delayed him just enough. The last bus left the stop a minute prior to his arrival. It even waggled its back end at him as it bumbled up the road.
He was going to have to fly if he was going to catch the train. If he followed the path across the park, nipped through the cemetery and cut through the derelict factory, he could just catch the 9:36. Then change two stops down the line for the express. Going as fast as he was able, he was all too soon panting and sweaty. By rights, he should be fitter than this but a mistaken snack, taken in a hurry, a couple of days ago, had laid him low. It was his Admittance to the Temple and if he did not get a wriggle on, he would not be on time.
The cemetery had been graced by vandals too often to leave the gate unlocked. Alex muttered under his breath as he went over the fence, it was only shoulder height and easy to climb. Why bother to lock the gate? As he sped along, the tricksy moon slid behind a cloud, plunging the graveyard into darkness. Not being gifted with excellent night vision, he barked his shin on an angel, pitching headlong on damp grass. Gasping, he levered himself up and the moon came out to laugh at him. The angel, broken off her plinth, lay prone with a stoney look of benign holiness. Or triumph. With a sore leg, Alex set off again, being careful to stick to the line of the path. It was going to be touch and go to be at the ticket office with time to pay his fare.
The wall keeping the factory ghosts from the graveyard spooks was a good ten feet high, made of solid bricks and topped with glass shards. Luckily, ivy had added an atmospheric coating and a snaked twining of useable branches. In no time Alex was balanced in a gap between shards, picking his landing spot in the shifting gloom below. There! He aimed his feet and stepped out into the air. It should have been as silent as a bat's glide. Not accompanied by the growl of ripping cloth and a jarring thump as the drawcord in his top refused to give way. He dangled.
Then it snapped.
At least the landing was soft. In ankle deep, foul smelling gunk that filled his designer trainers. He took a couple of squelching steps, wrinkling his nose. He wanted to stop and clean them but forced himself to hurry on. He could sort it out on the train. Then he discovered that the long promised demolition of the factory had begun and there was only half of it left. The rest of it was a huge, unstable pile of rubble. Right across the access road. Briefly, Alex debated whether to go home. Echoing from the railway station, he heard a muffled announcement that the 9:36 had been delayed.
'Up and over!' He told himself and got on with it.
There was no time to buy a ticket, he was going to have to pay full whack on board. For once, the conductor was efficient and he was only charged the minimum. He discovered that there was supposed to be half an hour until the express came. He studied the departures board. Where was it? Cancelled? Delayed? The other platform? He crossed the line. Not here either. He crossed back. The express arrived with a roar, tugging wind into swirls behind it as it raced down the line to its next stop. The next station.
Alex dropped into one of the metal chairs on the platform and dry rubbed his face. He was going to be late. Bleakly, he gazed at the departures display. The next train was due in half an hour and was direct to his destination. It was a slow stopper, he would be late. But he would be there. There was a discarded newspaper in the litter bin, he used it as a rough rag. The train was late. He sat on it in weary resignation as it swayed and rumbled along the tracks, rocking rhythmically. Like a cradle.
A sharp jerk yanked him back into the land of the living. The train had stopped, he remembered that. But the jerk? His coach lurched again. He banged his forehead on the window, reading the station name. He had slept right through to the city. The jerk was the train being decoupled. Now what?
The station was emptying, it would be closing soon. There would be no more trains, no busses until the morning. Useless. A taxi? It would be an absolute fortune. And his destination was a secret. He was not going to get there. Excluded before he had even started. Thrown to the wolves.
Shoulders drooping, he slouched into the tiny supermarket next to the station and invested in a bottle of vodka. The cashier gave him a wary look, but he grinned and licked his lips. It earned him a tremulous smile, but, tonight, he could not be bothered. All he wanted to do was to book into a hotel and sleep and sleep and sleep.
The concierge was politely efficient, took his credit card for advance payment and handed over his door key and receipt with a bland smile. He was used to stranded travellers. Alex glanced at it, about to stuff it in his wallet and froze. It had the date on it. Today's date. He was not late.
He was twenty four hours early.