Strange Days

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
John Brady was on his way home from work. The next thing he knew he was coming round on a city street with no idea what day it was or what had happened. What was going on? Was he losing his mind?

Submitted: January 17, 2014

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Submitted: January 17, 2014

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John Brady was tired. Work was doing his head in. It had been such a long day. So much for the nine-to-five. These days he was working something like seven to seven. As he drove home he kept one hand on the steering wheel and rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand. Stared out at the dark stretch of motorway in front of him. What a day! He shook his head. Still, in thirty minutes he would be on his sofa. He had a few cans in the fridge. Couldn’t wait to crack a lager open.

A shiver went through him. It was a cold, miserable night. He flicked on the heater. Pulled out into the fast lane. Put his foot down. Soon be home, he told himself. He tugged his tie loose.

He had worked for the firm for almost a decade. He’d joined straight from school. The office was like his second home. He had worked hard and made some progress. He’d not managed to climb as far up the ladder as he’d have liked. Over the past few weeks he’d started to wonder what was the point of it all. Would he look back in years time and be glad that for most of his adult life he’d been slogging his guts out behind a desk in the vain hope of some recognition for his hard work?

His stomach rumbled. He was hungry. Hardly surprising considering that he’d not had anything to eat since the bowl of Special K at six thirty that morning. He was sure there was a service station a couple of junctions away. That would have to do. He needed something quick and easy. The services should be able to manage that.

Sure enough, after flooring it, a short while later he saw the signs for the motorway services. The thought of it seemed so enticing. A break from driving along the dark highway. A rest and something to eat. Just the ticket. He flicked his indicator down. Followed the winding stretch of road towards the glowing shape of the services building. He knew that motorway services were a rip off and that the food wasn’t always the best but right now he didn’t care.

The road twisted to the left before opening out into a deserted carpark. Harsh light covered the tarmac from overhead streetlights. Brady pulled up outside the glowing entrance to the service station. His stomach rumbled again. He needed some deep-fried stodge and a few cups of coffee. That would sort him out.

He climbed out of the car. Slammed the door shut. The cold stung his face and touched his chest through his shirt. He shivered. Pulled his jacket tight around him. His shoes clomped across the tarmac as he headed for the glass double-doors. He tried not to think about the bad day. It had been such a horrendous day. He sighed. And it was only Monday. Why did it always happen on Mondays? Even if tomorrow was as bad at least he’d be a day closer to the weekend. Nevermind, in a minute he’d be eating hot, greasy food in warm, comfortable surroundings. Almost there.

 

He opened his eyes. The daylight stunned his eyes. His head hurt. He was lying down on a cold, hard surface. Brady sat up. Looked around. He was on the pavement of a narrow side street. He rubbed his forehead. He felt strange. Felt hot and cold at the same time. He was sweating yet had goosebumps. He felt lightheaded. He could see traffic rolling by on the main road at the bottom of the side street. He took a deep breath. Pushed himself up. Leaned on the wall to his right for support. His head felt fuzzy. It was as though he’d had too much to drink. He placed both palms flat on the brick work. Hung his head. He sighed. Shook his head in an attempt to clear it. He couldn’t think straight.

He staggered on weak legs towards the main road. It was like treading water. ‘Have I been drugged?’ he asked outloud. The effort hurt his throat. He stumbled to the end of the street. Taxi cabs, cars, buses, and courier vehicles rushed along the city street. People headed this way and that along the pavements. City types clutching overpriced paper cups of coffee and briefcases, strode like executive peacocks on the way to the next business meeting. Students, rucksacks slung over their shoulder, shuffled along, oblivious to whatever lesson or lecture they should have been attending. Shoppers, laden with bags of designer shopping, marched forward to the next fashionable boutique.

Brady, even in his mixed up state, knew the street. It was Deansgate in Manchester city centre. He had no idea what he was doing there. He didn’t remember coming into town. He looked at his watch. 3.15pm. Couldn’t remember anything about earlier in the day. He couldn’t remember the last thing he actually remembered.

He breathed in a lungful of cold, autumn air. His throat was sore and it felt like his chest was full of cottonwool. He needed a drink. Something, anything to quench his thirst and get rid of the dryness in his mouth. There was a newsagents a few doors down from where he was standing. With uneasy steps he padded to the papershop.

The shelves of the tiny newsagents were crammed with magazines and newspapers. Every single subject, sport and topic seemed to be covered, from creative writing to professional wrestling. He went to the fridge near the counter. Grabbed a bottle of Coke. The small guy behind the counter seemed to be drowning in a sea of newspaper. He asked Brady for eighty-five pence.

With shaking hands Brady fumbled in his pockets. Found some change. His trembling fingers dropped the coins. They hit the floor with a jangling sound. He swore. Bent to pick them up. Scooped up all the pennies he could find. He drew himself upright. A wave of dizziness washed over him. What was wrong with him? He really didn’t feel right.

He handed the guy a pound coin. He must have seen the panicked look in Brady’s eyes. As he gave him his change he spoke.

‘Don’t worry, mate. Could be worse. At least it’s Friday tomorrow.’

‘What? Today’s Thursday?’

‘Yeah mate. Not with it today are you?’

Brady shook his head. Turned and left the shop. It shouldn’t be Thursday. He thought hard. What was the last thing he could remember? Monday. Yes, that was it. The last thing he could recall was heading home on Monday. And it was now Thursday afternoon.

 

He walked down Deansgate. The autumn sky was blue and clear but there was a cutting cold wind. He cracked open the Coke. Took a long gulp. Sighed. As he walked he tried to think. Had to get this straight in his head. The last thing he remembered was Monday night. Going home from work. He was confused, disorientated and dizzy but he was certain, absolutely certain, that Monday night was the last thing he could recall.

He took a swig of his drink. The sugar rush helped slightly. Gave him a bit of strength. He reached Albert Square. Manchester’s gothic town hall faced him across the open square. He sat down on a wooden bench. What had happened to him? Perhaps he’d been in a car crash. No, if that was the case then surely he’d have come round either at the crash scene or in a hospital ward. But why couldn’t he remember the past three days?

He heard a mobile phone ringing. It took him a minute to realise that it was his phone. He reached into jacket pocket. Found his mobile phone.

‘Hello?’

‘John? Is that you?’ It was Barry Wyndham. His manager. Great, a call from work. Just what he needed.

‘Yeah, it’s me.’

‘What’s going on? We didn’t know what to think. Didn’t know if you’d left or if something had happened to you. You can’t just not show up to work for three days. It is simply not acceptable.’

‘You mean I’ve not been in work?’

‘What? No, of course you haven’t! What are you playing at?’

‘I’m not playing at anything, Barry. I can’t tell you what happened. I really don’t know.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘It was Monday night. I was on my way home. The next thing I know it’s three o’clock Thursday afternoon. I’m in town and I have absolutely no idea how I got here.’

‘Really?’ said his boss. ‘Not the most believable story, John. If you went on a bender I’d have more respect for you if -’

‘Honestly! I don’t know what’s going on. It’s freaking me out. I can’t recall anything since Monday night. It’s news to me that I haven’t been in work but I really don’t know where I’ve been. After Monday it’s a blank, there’s nothing.’

‘What are you going to do now?’

‘I was thinking of getting myself checked out at the hospital.’

‘I think that’s a good idea. But I want you in the office on time tomorrow. It’s mad busy here. We’re really under the kosh.’

‘Right.’ said Brady.

The line went dead.

Brady ran a hand through his hair. He watched the people crossing the square. The whole world seemed fuzzy. It was Thursday afternoon. He had lost three days. It wasn’t just his memory either. He had not been in work. That was news to him. On Monday night he had intended to work the week out as usual. Now it was Thursday and he had not spent the week at the office. Where had he been?

His shoulders ached and his stomach churned. On the far side of the square a row of four blackcabs waited for custom. They reminded him of shiny, giant ants, about to take away their passengers. He drank the last of his coke. Got to his feet. Took a breath and made his way to the line of taxis. He jumped in the back of the cab at the front of the queue. The driver, a heavy set man in his forties, put down the newspaper he was reading. Glanced in the mirror. His eyes met Brady’s.

‘Alright mate. Where we going?’

‘Hope Hospital, cheers.’

The driver nodded. Pulled out in front of a car. They wove their way out of the city centre and along Regent Road into Salford. Brady slouched down in the seat, stared out of the window. They passed and up-market fish and chip shop. The place was busy. Why would people pay over ten pounds for fish, chips and mushy peas? It was extortion. It also did not seem genuine to Brady. You can’t make a chip shop posh. It just didn’t work. What next? Designer kebabs? No, fish and chips should come wrapped in paper and cost less than a fiver. His favourite chippy was across the road from his house. It was called Frank Wong’s and it did lovely chips and if he felt like really treating himself he’d opt for something from the Chinese menu.

His thoughts were interrupted by an intense pain in his stomach. A sharp shooting pain. He doubled up. Hugged his stomach. Closed his eyes tight. Tried to catch his breath.

‘You okay?’ asked the driver.

Brady shook his head.

‘We’ll soon be there. Hang in there.’

 

Ten minutes later they pulled up outside the sliding doors of Hope Hospital’s Accident and Emergency. Brady gulped at the air. He was sweating and his stomach hurt like hell. The driver told him that he was here now, the best place for him. Then asked him for seventeen pounds. Brady snatched his wallet from his jacket. Threw a twenty pound note through the space in the clear screen between them. Then climbed out of the cab.

He rushed passed the smokers huddled around the entrance. Some were clad in awful dressing gowns and nightclothes. Brady guessed that the clothing had been grabbed at short notice to clothe the person going into hospital. He darted through the automatic doors. The walls and floor were a safe, welcoming, pale shade of blue. Posters advertising flu jabs and general patient information lined the walls. Brady marched to the reception desk. A grey haired woman in a pink cardigan was sitting behind the desk. She didn’t look up from the papers she was going through.

‘Excuse me. I really need to see somebody.’

‘What’s your name?’ she asked.

‘John Brady.’

She took his details. Tapped it all into the computer in front of her.

‘And what is wrong with you?’

‘I’ve got pains in my stomach. I’m just not well. I can’t remember the last three days. It’s freaking me out.’

‘Take a seat. We’ll get to you as soon as we can.’

Brady nodded.

 

The A&E waiting area was to the right of the reception desk. The space was filled with plastic chairs. The place was quite busy. He squeezed past a handful of people to a free seat. In an attempt to distract himself from the pain in his stomach and the general feeling of unease he looked around at the other people waiting for medical attention. There were a couple of drunks staring bleary eyed, while clutching bloodied lips and swollen eyes. He was certain that there would be more of their kind of patients as the afternoon drew into evening. He spotted parents with children, the adults wore concerned expressions as their children in school uniform rolled their eyes and sent text messages to their friends. There were adults, some on their own, others in couples. They glanced at their watches and shook their heads. Something told Brady he was in for a long wait.

The pain in his stomach seemed to be subsiding. He tried not to think about it in case the pain returned. He still felt lightheaded and disorientated. He breathed in and out in slow, deliberate breathes. Tried to relax. He did what he always did when he wanted to calm down. He counted on each inward breath. Counted in Chinese. He’d always fancied himself as something of a linguist. Languages fascinated him, he couldn’t really explain why. He knew small chunks of phrases and expressions in various languages, from how to say hello in Vorarlberg Austrian slang to the Polish word for chocolate. He counted to himself in Cantonese and tried to chill out about everything. Surely the hospital would be able to sort him out. Like the taxi driver had said, the best place for him. He nodded to himself.

 

Two and half hours later, just as Brady was beginning to think he’d never be seen to, his name was called. He pushed through the waiting crowd of patients. He was shown through to a curtain-lined cubicle. There was a bed and a sink. The nurse pulled the curtain slightly to give them a little privacy from the noisy bedlam that were A&E departments across the country. The nurse was in her mid-fifties and overweight. Her eyes told Brady that she’d seen a lot of things while working for the health service.

‘So, what can we do for you?’

‘Where do I start? The last thing I remember I was heading home on Monday night. Next thing it’s Thursday afternoon and I’m lying on a street in town. And I feel so strange. Dizzy or something. And I had these pains in my stomach.’

The nurse frowned. She put on her best reassuring smile. Nodded, told him she’d do a few tests to see what they could find. She took his temperature. Fine. Took his blood pressure, slipping the sleeve over his arm. He felt it tighten uncomfortably so, then slacken. The nurse took the reading. His blood pressure was as it should be. She told him the numbers but it meant nothing to him. If she’d have told him that this B.P was two pounds fifty he’d have believed her.

She pushed the cold end of a stethoscope against his bare chest. Listened for a minute as he breathed in and out. As she folded the stethoscope away she told him that his chest was clear.

‘We’ll just do a blood test. See what that tells us.’

Brady pulled up his shirt sleeve. Looked away as the nurse jabbed the needle into his arm. He wasn’t squeamish or afraid of needles but he couldn’t watch while the injection went in. He tended to look away and pretend it wasn’t happening.

The nurse told him to return to the waiting room. Said he’d be called back in a little while. He nodded and shuffled back to the crowded waiting area. He managed to find a free chair at the back of the room. Flopped down into the chair with a sigh. He hoped they’d find out what was wrong. He hoped they’d give him some tablets and assure him that the pills would sort him out, and tell him he’d be fine. He hoped they’d just call it a blip, just one of those things. He folded his arms. Slouched back in the chair. The nurse had said that they’d be a little while. Time seemed to move painfully slow in these places so who knew how long he’d have to wait.

 

It was just over ninety minutes later when they called his name. The nurse lead him back to the cubicle. He perched on the edge of the bed. The nurse leafed through her notes. She tutted to herself.

‘Your results are confusing, Mr Brady. You are not in ill-health but there are certain anomalies. Something is not right. Quite strange.’

‘Really? What does that mean? What do we do now?’

‘Well, there does not appear to be anything wrong per se, yet the results are different from what they should be. You are in no danger, and it is not something for us at the Accident and Emergency department to involve ourselves in. What I suggest is that you contact your doctor, have him do a blood test. The results will speak for themselves.’

‘Is there nothing you can do now?’

‘You are in no immediate peril. You are in good health. We are very busy here. Yours is neither an accident nor an emergency. Go and see your doctor. He will take it from there. Like I said, Mr Brady, your test results aren’t bad, more unusual.’

The expression on her face told Brady that she was finished with him. He sighed, picked himself up from the bed. Nodded and pushed past the nurse. Headed for the exit.

 

The night was cold. He shivered and trudged towards the bus stop. A teenage couple huddled together under the shelter. Brady wondered whether they were actually waiting for a bus or just hanging out there. He leaned on the wall of the shelter. Watched the evening traffic roll by. He hoped he wouldn’t have to wait too long.

As he waited he went over what the nurse had told him. She was right. It was confusing. So, there was nothing physically wrong with him. That was something, he supposed. That had to be good news. He wasn’t about to keel over, or have only six months to live or anything. But the nurse had told him that his results were unusual. What did that mean? Nothing to worry about was the impression she’d given him. But what exactly was the discrepancy with his test results? Would the nurse be quite so dismissive if the results were her own? But, the results weren’t bad. If he was in any serious trouble they would have kept him in hospital. They certainly would not have told him to see his doctor and sent him out to get the bus home.

He blew into his hands. Willed the bus to turn up. He just wanted to get home. Eventually the bus approached. The number sixty-seven to Cadishead. Get in! The teenage couple didn’t move. They were obviously at the bus shelter to hang out away from prying eyes. Brady stuck his arm out until the bus driver flicked his indicator down. Pulled to a stop in front of him. With a hiss the doors slid back. Brady climbed on board. Told the driver he wanted to go to Irlam. The driver asked him for three pound sixty. He tossed him the coins and found himself a seat.

He stared out the window as Salford rolled past, turned into Eccles. Past the bus station, the supermarket, past the pubs, Indian restaurants, and take aways. The bus ploughed on, straight on at Brookhouse roundabout and on into Irlam. He got off opposite Frank Wong’s chippy. He just wanted to get home. Had to get back to familiar surroundings. He cut down a narrow side street. Turned right. There it was. Home. His house was in darkness. His car was parked outside his house. Strange. He didn’t remember driving home the other night. But he must have gone home as his car was there. He had no recollection of getting back home.

He stood for a moment in the cold darkness. Looked his car over. Nothing out of place. He shook his head. No idea. He turned to his front door. Let himself in. Unset the alarm. He went through to the living room. Put the lamps on. To be at home, in the lit room comforted him slightly. He sighed. He could drive himself crazy and still be no nearer finding out what had happened. It was over now. He felt better than he had earlier in the day. Everything will be alright, he told himself. Went through to the kitchen. Switched the heating on and poured himself a generous measure of whiskey. Back through to the living room, dived on the sofa. Flicked the television on. And relax, he said aloud.

There was a martial arts film on. That’ll do. He took a sip of whiskey. It burned his throat as it went down. Watched Jet Li high kicking his way through a factory full of bad guys. Quality. He liked Kung Fu films. Pure escapism. Nothing better than watching the hero go to town with lots of flying kicks and spinning punches. He was into the oriental stuff too. He’d lost track of the amount of times he’d seen Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Now Chow Yun Fat, there was a top notch ass kicker. He didn’t have the Bruce Lee six pack but he made up for it with attitude and technique.

His stomach rumbled. He couldn’t remember when he’d last eaten but then again, his memory was all over the place. After the pain he had suffered earlier he didn’t want anything that could unsettle his stomach. He went through his kitchen cupboards. Beans on toast. Just the ticket. As he waited for the toast to burn and his beans to warm his mind ticked over. What was going on with him? Where had he been? What were the unusual results the nurse had mentioned? No, no, no. He couldn’t keep raking it over and over. He shook his head. He did not have the answers. The more he thought about it the more it was getting to him. He simply did not know what had gone on but he hoped that was the end of it. Hoped he could put it behind him.

He popped the burned toast out of the toaster and onto a plate. Poured a large dollop of baked beans over the top. Just one more thing. A squirt of brown sauce. Bon appetite! He grabbed a knife and fork and went back to the film. Jet Li was now on motorbike racing through narrow, winding streets. It took Brady a minute to figure out if Li was the one doing the chasing or if he was being chased.

A while later, after the film had finished, he washed the pots and headed upstairs to bed.

He lay in bed. Stared at the ceiling in the dark room, arms folded under his head. He was tired. The day had caught up with him. He was still concerned about what had happened but he was far too shattered to lie awake worrying. His eyelids felt so heavy. He fought it for a while but soon enough sleep washed over him.

 

He woke with a start. Sat up in bed, breathing hard. He was sweating. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. He couldn’t remember what nightmare had startled him, which he was glad about. It would have been worse if he could recall what horrible dream had rattled him.

He glanced at the glowing figures on his alarm clock. Six thirty am. His alarm would be going off at seven. He stretched. Knew he wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep. And besides, if he was going to have another bad dream and wake panicked he wasn’t sure he wanted to go to sleep any time soon. He rubbed his eyes. Headed for the bathroom.

He had to go into work. If he didn’t turn in today he’d be in real trouble. As it was, he expected a reprimand, maybe even a written warning, for going awol. He had to go in. Time to face the music whether he felt up to it or not. Besides, what was the alternative? Hang around his house watching daytime television. He’d be climbing the walls. No chance. He’d drive himself crazy. He mind would be doing overtime. Work would be the best place for him. He could do with the distraction. The nurse had suggested that he go and see his doctor but she’d also shoo’d him out of the automatic doors as quickly as possible.

He felt a bit spaced out but he was never a morning person anyway. Thankfully though, he’d had no more stomach pains. Even if he went to see his doctor, he wouldn’t be able to tell him what he’d been doing for the previous three days. Nah, he said aloud. He shook his head. Unless something else happened he’d draw a line under it.

He padded across the landing. Flicked the bathroom light on. As the light came on Brady didn’t see the bathroom. He was standing in a strange room. Gleaming walls surrounded him. The walls were a colour he couldn’t quite describe, a kind of silver-white. One wall was made up of what looked like an intricate computer panel, all flashing digits and lights. Stark white light shone down from overhead spotlights. Brady was caught up in the moment. He found he was calm. Tranquil, even. He looked around the large room. There was a door at the far end. It was closed with a flashing panel next to it. Brady assumed that to open the door you had to tap something into the panel. He approached the door, which was made of the same silver-white as the walls. He reached out a hand to touch the door. Stretched his fingers out warily.

As he was about to touch the door it slid back. Blinding light shone from beyond the doorway. He lifted a hand to shield his eyes. He saw a figure silhouetted by the light. His calmness deserted him. He panicked. Turned to run. In his haste he tripped. Fell, sprawling forward.

He landed on the soft, thick carpet of his bathroom. He stared at the familiar fittings as though they might offer a clue as to what had just happened. Nothing. Just the same bathroom he’d been showering in every morning for the past four years. He picked himself up. Leaned on the sink. He ran the cold tap. Splashed the water on his face. Stared into the mirror. Searched his frightened reflection for answers.

Should he go and see the doctor? Now he was seeing things. Hallucinating or having visions. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good. What would he say to the doctor? Well, you see, doc, I don’t know where I’ve been for the past three days and now I’m seeing strange things. How would that sound? What would the doctor say? Could go either way, he thought. The doctor would either think he’d lost the plot completely or put it down to the stress of working too hard at the office. He sighed. Could the doctor actually help him? Brady really didn’t think he could. Prescribing a course of pills to make him feel better, and telling him to come back anytime was not the answer. And besides, if he didn’t get to work today he’d have something else to worry about. He’d have to look for another job, on top of everything else. It was bloody weird though. A real mystery. And as for the hallucinating. Perhaps he wasn’t fully awake. Perhaps his mind was playing tricks on him. What else could it be, but a trick of the mind? He’d been half asleep, still bothered by the strange week he was having, and just woke from some forgotten nightmare. Had to go to work. Had to. It would also help bring some normality back to his life. He wanted the boring routine.

Brady reached in and started the shower going. Gave it a couple of minutes to warm up. Nothing worse than a cold shower. His boiler had been playing up a couple of years ago and for three days he’d had to shower and shave in cold water. Horrid. He could still remember the shivering, sick to the stomach feeling of showering in freezing cold water. Since then he didn’t even get into luke warm showers. Preferred the luxury of piping hot water. These days when he got out of the shower his shins were red from the steaming water.

The hot water felt good as it hit the back of his neck. He sighed. Hung his head. This would bring him round. Sort him out and wake him up. He pushed the strange events of the week to the back of his mind.

 

He had a quick shave and went to get dressed. Shrugged into his shirt, knotted his tie around his neck. Looked at his reflection. He did not know what he was expecting to see but he was surprised to see that he looked like his normal self. A bit tired and worn out, but still the same old John Brady he’d been a week ago.

 

The Friday morning traffic was flowing quick enough. There were never as many cars on the road on Fridays. Maybe people booked the day off as holiday to make a long weekend of it. Maybe people just couldn’t face going in after working all week and decided to throw a sickie. Whatever the reason, Brady flew along, darted down the M60 ring road. He was at the office by 8.45. Fifteen minutes early. Wouldn’t make up for doing a vanishing act for three days, but it was better than nothing.

He pulled into the carpark. There were a few free spaces. The carpark would fill up quickly and by nine o’clock there would be no spaces left. He parked halfway down the bays. Climbed out of his car. Marched through the bitter morning air towards the double glass doors of the office. He just hoped that he got away with a ticking off. Worse case scenario he would be given his cards and be at home drinking tea by the time the Jeremy Kyle show started. He took a deep breath and went through the doors.

 

His desk was a mess. Papers, files, printing and faxes had been plonked, shoved and dumped all over the workspace. He sat down with a sigh. Switched his computer on. As his computer booted itself up and his inbox pinged with incoming emails Brady flicked through the paperwork covering his desk. He shook his head. Back to the grindstone, John, he thought.

Mike, one of his colleagues, came over. He was in his thirties, painfully thin and had a wit as sharp as his cheekbones.

‘Alright mate? Where you been hiding? I was telling everyone you’d been kidnapped.’

‘Nice one, Mike. Nah, I really don’t know what happened myself. Memory loss or something. Real scared me though.’

‘I was getting a collection going for the ransom. I had almost eight quid.’

Brady smiled at him and gave him a two fingered salute.

Louise, a woman in her twenties with a wicked smile but known to have a raging temper, came over on the way to her desk. She gave him a a concerned look. Mike gave Brady a ‘get in there’ wink and left them to it.

‘John, I hear you’ve been having a tough time of it. How you doing, love?’

‘Yeah, I’m okay. Don’t ask me where I’ve been all week because I couldn’t tell you. Really weird.’

Louise shook her head. Patted his shoulder.

‘Hope you’re okay. You take care.’

‘Will do.’

 

Brady spend the next hour ploughing through the stuff on his desk and dealing with his email messages. He had made some progress. Just after ten o’clock his manager came over. Barry Wyndham stood by his desk, arms folded. He was somewhere in his fifties and was notorious for nitpicking. They said that you could work until midnight every night but if you were five minutes late he would tear a strip off you. During the arctic conditions of January 2010 Brady had taken three hours to get to work only to be rewarded with a snappy ‘What time do you call this?’ from Wyndham.

Wyndham’s eyes scanned Brady’s desk. His gaze then settled on Brady. There wasn’t a grey hair out of place on his brylcreemed head. His middle aged spread hung over his designer belt.

‘Morning. Glad you’re here. How are you?’

‘Bearing up, thanks. I really don’t know -’

‘Carters need their monthly report by lunchtime. I’ve got a meeting with their director at one o’clock.’

‘I’ll do my best, Barry.’

‘John, I need those figures. Do not let me down.’

Brady nodded. Wyndham turned and marched across the office. Brady rearranged the paperwork on his desk. He had to get that report done. Wyndham had not said as much but Brady knew that if he didn’t pull this out of the bag then he was toast. Wyndham would let him go. Well, he had wanted work to take his mind off the horrid few days and the bizarre things that had happened. Now he had to get the Carter report completed. That would be a distraction. Careful what you wish for, John, he told himself.

 

At eleven forty five the raging figure of Barry Wyndham approached his desk.

‘John, I need those figures. We can’t let them down.’

Brady handed him a thick file. He said nothing.

‘Oh, right.’ he flicked through the papers. ‘Good job.’

Wyndham tucked the report under his arm and strode back to his office.

 

At lunchtime Brady went up the road. Bought himself a tuna sandwich, a Coke and a newspaper. Back at his desk he munched his sandwich and flicked through the paper. There wasn’t much that was newsworthy in the paper. Just gossip and tittle tattle mainly. Which celebrities were getting it on, which were getting divorced, and the latest from whatever reality television shows were currently being aired. There was also a few articles about a handful of politicians who turned out to be lying, cheating, money grabbing weisels. Not a total shock, Brady thought. It would have been more newsworthy if the politicians had turned out to be honest, decent and hard working. If the smug, greasy suit wearing cretins had really wanted to help people as they claimed surely they would have gone into nursing, or one of the other caring industries, instead of donning an immaculate suit, avoiding answering questions and claiming expenses for all that they could get away with on their multiple homes.

The afternoon rolled by. He was kept busy by one problem after another and had more than enough to sort out. He got stuck in and kept going right up until five o’clock. Normally by the late afternoon his energy levels would drop as would his productivity. Despite his best efforts to battle it he would find it really hard to concentrate as the day wore on. Things that would take him ten minutes in the morning would take him three times as long at the end of the afternoon. But today, his concentration and focus was still there when his colleagues began switching their computers off and pulling coats over their shoulders.

There was a happy buzz in the office. It occurred to him that the best part of the weekend was this, going home time on Friday. The weekend stretched out in front of you, full of promise, anything seemed possible at this part of the week. As much as he’d revelled in the distraction that work had provided, it was still a good feeling to be going home on Friday night.

He threw his coat on. Tugged his tie loose. Told his departing colleagues that he’d see them on Monday morning. As he crossed the dark carpark Mike waved to him, told him he’d see him on Monday if he didn’t disappear over the weekend. Brady just laughed, shook his head.

 

In the car on the way home he flicked on the radio. Found a classic rock station. Proper Friday night music. They were playing an old ACDC track. Brady smiled to himself. Turned the volume up. Drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. Sung along with the screeching vocals. He joined the stream of rush-hour traffic flowing along the M60 motorway. Tried not to think of the crazy week. Water under the bridge he told himself. Back to work and back to normal. End of the week. Here’s to a good weekend, he thought.

Back home he switched on the heating and grabbed a lager from the fridge. Popped the can open and took a gulp. Lovely. On second thoughts, this was the best part of the weekend. The first mouthful of beer of the weekend. He sighed. Taking his can with him he went to get changed.

In his scruffs, tracksuit bottoms and hooded top, he got himself another beer and crashed out on the sofa. There was a comedy panel show on television. It wasn’t bad. Had it’s moments. The panellists sometimes tried to be too topical and satirical and in doing so forgot to be funny. After the show he rang the pizza company a mile up the road. Ordered the twelve inch meat feast, his mouth watering as he spoke, a portion of chips, and a Coke. He gave them his address and they replied with the industry standard answer of ‘Forty-five minutes.’ Perhaps if the delivery driver was due to arrive earlier than the obligatory forty five minutes he would drive around the block a few times before turning up. As he waited for his pizza he chuckled to himself at the old joke about the man who ordered a thin and crusty Supreme and ten minutes later Diana Ross appeared on his doorstep.

Fifty minutes later his pizza arrived. He paid the delivery guy and kicked the front door shut. After a quick stop off in the kitchen to grab some cutlery and give his pizza and chips a squirt of brown sauce, he went back to the living room. From the comfort of his sofa he munched way through the meat feast and watched a sit com on BBC. Whilst not laugh out loud funny, it was entertaining enough. As he ate and watched the television he was so glad it was the weekend. Glad to be at the end of an awful week.

 

After a few more beers, and a few hours of Friday night television, the day caught up with him. He yawned, rubbed his eyes. Checked his watch. Eleven forty-five. Time for bed. Leaving the pizza box and empty cans to be sorted out in the morning he pushed himself up off the sofa and headed for bed.

In the darkness of his bedroom he tugged off his tracksuit trousers and hooded top, threw them across the room and crawled under the duvet. Curled up, head deep in the pillow, he was asleep almost straight away.

 

He looked around. He was in the place with the silver-white walls that he’d seen instead of his bathroom first thing that morning. The scene had an unreal quality about it. Like everything about the place, the computer panel was like nothing he’d ever seen before. The flashing lights and keys on the panel blinked hypnotically. Fascinating. The markings and figures on the panel were completely alien, they looked more out of this world than the letters used in the Russian alphabet.

There was a whooshing sound as the door at the end of the room slid back. Blinding white light spilled from the doorway. Brady stood staring, transfixed. A silhouetted figure appeared in the light. The figure approached. Brady wanted to turn and run but he couldn’t move. His body felt out of his control. The stranger came through the doorway and entered the room.

Brady could not believe what he was seeing. The creature had long, thin limbs and grey-green skin. The large head seemed out of proportion with the figures body and had oval lime green eyes. It came closer. Brady tried to turn away from the creature but his body wouldn’t do as it was told. The thing produced a pen-like instrument. A pale blue beam of light came from the end of the tool. The figure said something in a language Brady couldn’t understand. Pointed the instrument at him.

 

He woke with a start. Breathing hard. Shook his head. Crazy dreams. He tried to control his breathing. Tried to calm himself down. He could make out pale daylight on the other side of the thin curtains. Glanced at the clock. 8.25am. At least he’d had plenty of sleep even if he’d had nightmares. He hated having bad dreams. Sleep was when you were supposed to rest and recuperate after the stresses and strains of the day, to be tormented by bad dreams seemed unfair.

He picked his tracksuit trousers and hooded top off the floor and threw them back on. Plodded down the stairs. Time for tea and toast. Proper weekend breakfast. After making do with quick bowls of cereal during the week Brady preferred a leisurely breakfast of tea and toast at the weekend.

Mug of tea brewed, toast burned then smeared with a thick spread of strawberry jam, Brady went through to the living room. Sat on the sofa. He watched the breakfast news on BBC. The reporters talked about a variety of topics, from the big sporting fixtures taking place that weekend, to the latest in the world of politics. Again people were calling for the prime minister’s head. As if that would solve anything. They would replace one smirking liar who promised the earth and delivered nothing for another.

As he gulped his tea the news topic changed. They went on to cover a very different story indeed.

‘And in other news,’ the pretty female broadcaster said. ‘There has been another alleged case of alien abduction.’

Brady put his tea down. Leaned forward. According to the report a forty two year old man from Carlisle was claiming to have been abducted. The man appeared on screen. He looked so normal. He was the average man in the street. He was slightly overweight, had thinning hair and wore a shirt and tie. He explained that a few days ago he had been walking his dog at around seven thirty that evening. The next thing he knew it was nine o’clock in the morning, two days later. He was found lying in the street near his home. Brady gasped. Couldn’t take his eyes from the screen. It all sounded so familiar. So similar to what happened to him.

‘Since then,’ the man went on. ‘I’ve been having flashbacks. I see strange things. Like dreams, but I know what I’m seeing actually happened. In these visions I’m in a strange room. Everything is all gleaming and silver. And there are these thin creatures. Like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Aliens. I know I must sound like a crackpot but this is real. It happened to me.’ The man stared into the camera for a second. His eyes pleaded with the viewers to take him seriously.

The news report cut back to the studio. The reporter said that it was the sixth case of alleged alien abduction reported in the past two months. The reporter finished by saying ‘Are these incidents the products of over-active imagination? Do the claimants really believe this has happened to them or are they merely seeking the attention of the public? Or is there more to these occurrences? We’ll let you know as and when we get updates on this story.’

Brady flicked the television set to mute. Silence fell across the room. He flopped back on the sofa. Ran a hand through his hair. Was it his over-active imagination? The guy’s story seemed very similar to his own. Both had come round having experienced memory loss, and the flashbacks and dreams seemed much like the things he had seen and dreamed. Was it the same thing? Could it just be a coincidence?

A week ago he would have put these happenings down to the public’s over-imagination. He did not believe in UFOs. Didn’t subscribe to any of that paranormal stuff. It just didn’t interest him. He preferred what he could see, touch and feel. He had no strong religious beliefs either. He believed in the world around him and the people in it.

But his strange experience seemed so very similar to what the guy on the news had described. The guy kept referring to what happened as having been abducted by aliens. Surely that couldn’t be the case. Could it? Was that possible? Was it all the work of little green men? No. He had had a funny turn. Strange days, granted. But extra-terrestrial activity? Really?

But how did that explain that the guy’s experience was so very like his own? He shook his head. He couldn’t let this do his head in. Maybe stress was a contributing factor. Perhaps some psychologist could explain it. Maybe when certain people got stressed this was a common reaction. Maybe the alien flashback thing was common. Maybe when a person of a certain disposition got worked up that much they did collapse and come round days later with memory loss and envision an alien space ship.

His mobile phone rang. The sound startled him. He grabbed his phone. Flipped it open.

‘Hello?’

‘Alright John? How’s things?’

Brady recognised the voice immediately. It was Paul Morrison, his oldest and best friend. Brady tried to put a brave face on his rattled state. He should have know better. Paul had known him since high school. They had survived an unpleasant school life together. Not a horrid time but as Brady put it, those who said that school days were the best days of your life obviously didn’t go to the same school he went to.

‘What’s wrong?’

Brad laughed. Paul knew him as well as he knew himself. Brady explained about the crazy week. He also mentioned the news report that had unsettled him. He asked his friend what he made of it all.

‘I can understand why you’re freaked out. I’d be a wreck. Very strange. You work too hard though. Something had to give. You’re lucky you’re not in the hospital. You have to rest up. You need to relax. All this stress and strain isn’t good for you. Maybe this was your body or your brain’s way of saying it can’t cope any more.’

‘But what about the guy on the news? The other reports?’

‘John, do you actually believe that this is all down to aliens? Come on, you’re not thinking straight. You’re head’s mashed. Especially with the week you’ve had.’

‘How do you explain the others?’

‘I can’t explain it. But just because I can’t explain that does not mean that you’ve all been on board the mother-ship. Listen to yourself, mate.’

‘Yeah, you might have a point.’

‘This is real life, John, not some James Cameron film. Stuff like that doesn’t happen in reality. And besides, you’re not a redneck hillbilly. Everyone knows that only pick-up truck driving Americans get abducted by aliens. You’re too normal for that.’

Brady thanked him for sorting his head out. Paul told him that he could call him any time.

 

Brady spent the next few hours pottering around the house. He wasn’t exactly house proud but he felt so much better when he had a clean and tidy place. It was therapeutic, it helped clear his mind. He listened to Guns N Roses on his ipod while he mopped and hoovered. It was hard work and he felt good getting stuck into something. Sweat poured out of him. He wiped his forehead on his t-shirt.

 

It was gone twelve o’clock by the time he was done. His stomach rumbled. Dinnertime. He pulled his jacket on and left the house. Ten minutes later he was back, pie and chips in one hand and the morning newspapers in the other. He went through to the kitchen. He ate at the kitchen table and went through the newspapers. The food tasted lovely.

The newspaper mentioned the guy from Carlisle who’d had a similar experience to Brady. He shook his head. Turned the page. Chomped on a forkful of chips. He found the television page. Columbo was on in twenty minutes. Just the ticket. It was what the afternoon called for. Two hours of watching the crumpled detective solving another homicide.

As the dated 1970?s yellow lettering introduced Peter Falk as Columbo, Brady flaked out on the sofa. It was a classic episode. The L.A.P.D lieutenant was investigating the murder of a man who’d been found dead in his gym gear. How would the cop crack this case? Brady had seen it before but couldn’t recall how Columbo trapped the killer.

By two o’clock the murder had been solved. Columbo had found him out because the victim’s running shoes were tight left over right not right over left. The dead man was right handed so his laces should have been done up the other way. Unless, of course, the murderer tied the shoes to make it look like an accident. As Columbo put it, a dead man can’t tie his own shoes.

 

As the credits rolled on the television programme Brady glanced at his watch. Just gone two thirty. He decided to go for a walk. It was a cold, winter afternoon but the sun was out. It would be quite nice to get some fresh air. Might even have a pint on his travels. He couldn’t think of a better way to spend the rest of the afternoon. He threw his coat on, wrapped a scarf around his neck and pulled the front door shut behind him.

There was a cutting wind blowing. Brady walked quite fast to warm himself up. He walked across the fields near his house. The wind shook the grass like waves in a green sea. As he walked he plotted a pub crawl in his head. First stop would be the Boat House, there might even be a football match on, then on to the Nag’s Head and after that he’d just see where he ended up.

An elderly couple were walking their border collie dog on the field. They looked like grandparents. Brady could imagine the couple spoiling their grandchildren rotten, treating them with sweets and presents, and doting on their little cherubs. As he neared them, the elderly woman lost her footing on the path. She tripped. Fell, arms grabbing at the air. She landed in the grass with a thump. Brady rushed to help her up. He took her by the arm and helped her to her feet. The woman seemed to be okay, more embarrassed than hurt. Brady asked if she was alright. She nodded. Fine thanks. The elderly man thanked him too. Brady told them it was nothing, told them to take care.

He walked on over the field. Reached the pub. A pint would go down a treat. The place was fairly busy. He obviously wasn’t the only one who fancied a Saturday afternoon drink. He pushed his way through to the bar. Ordered a pint of lager. Then took his drink and found a free table. Took a gulp of beer. The crisp pint hit the spot. He decided he might have a couple of pints in here. It was warm, they had football on the television and draught lager. Happy days.

 

By six o’clock he was back home. He let himself in, put the lamps on, and switched the heating on to warm the house up. He had spent a good few hours sipping pints and walking. His face tingled as he came in out of the cold. He switched the television on. Final score was on BBC1. The distinctive monotone voice read out the results. Brady got comfortable on the sofa.

 

He sat up with a start. Must have nodded off. He stretched. The living room curtains were open. It was daylight outside. He checked the time on his watch. Two thirty. He shook his head. Two thirty? In the afternoon? He flicked the television on. The Sky+ guide told him it was two thirty on Saturday afternoon. How was that possible? He had spent the afternoon walking and had gone to the pub. Now, he found it was earlier in the day. He felt panic grip him. What was going on? He had lived through the afternoon. He was certain of it. He’d had a nice time. He had felt much better about things. But now he was back at the early afternoon.

He had to do something. He felt like screaming, yelling at the top of his voice, he wanted to know what was happening to him. He ran out his front door. He wanted to vanish, to disappear, but how could he get away from things when he didn’t know what was going on? He rushed across the field.


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