Black Water

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
A bad night on the road for passengers on a coach.

Submitted: January 04, 2015

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Submitted: January 04, 2015

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BLACK WATER

It was late evening when the coach left the bus station for its destination of the day. The heavy rain hadn’t stopped for several days, and there was nothing but rain puddles on the ground of the exterior of the bus station. Every so often, as another bus arrived to let its passengers down, the puddles shone in the headlights. In spite of the urgency to get home and the natural desire to get on board the vehicle that would take them there, no one was pushing or shoving. There was no point. The weather was bad enough as it was, no need to make things worse. The luggage was packed away in the large space underneath the belly of the coach by Chris, the driver, making sure that it was placed inside in the order of the owner alighting. The second driver, Grant, was checking off the names of the passengers as they boarded.

Chris locked the door to the luggage storage, and got into his seat, and asked Grant, “Everyone on board?”

Grant replied that all the passengers were on board. Everyone looked around to see if there were any empty seats and nodded in agreement.

“All right then, we’re off. The trip will take about three hours, and there will be a stop about halfway along the route,” Chris informed them, and Grant sat down on the special front seat nearest the driver. He would have a nap before it was his turn to take the wheel. There would be very few passengers who would get off early on the journey, so he could relax.

 

All those on the coach were very attentive as the large vehicle made its way out of the bus station onto the road and mingled with the rest of the traffic. The rain still kept up its monotonous sound of pitter-patter on the roof and made it even less interesting to stare out of the windows. As it was, there was nothing much to be seen, with all the water running down the glass. Any curiosity that the passengers could have felt, was soon gone, and they might as well have been travelling in a foreign country, rather than making for their homes for the weekend. Although it was warm inside the coach, the majority pulled down coats and covered themselves up for a nice sleep, the rocking of the coach on its giant wheels was a help in creating a situation of drowsiness.

 

Chris was in contact with his bosses, and an hour and a half after setting out, he received a message, “You’d better make a detour after the coffee stop, and go to the second bridge, although it will make the journey longer. There’s a lot of water in the area. After the stop? OK” Chris said OK, but had other ideas. He had been driving for more years than he wished to remember, and decided not to mention the message to Grant, as, in his opinion, it was nothing more than an exaggeration of the situation. What could possibly go wrong? It was only rain after all, and he was experienced with rain.

The stop was at a pub called The Angry Bull. Some of the passengers leapt up out of their seats, anxious to get fresh air in the faces in spite of the rain, and others staggered out onto the saturated car park, and all of them went straight to the bar, or the lavatories. In the light of a street lamp, the intensity of the raindrops was made more realistic. They were out in extreme weather. The driver and his mate left the pub and got back inside.

This time Grant took the steering wheel. The passengers, grunting and groaning, clambered back on board and got into their seats. Everything was like the first part of the journey - warm and cosy. The sleepyheads once again relaxed in their seats, waiting to be safely delivered to their destinations. The only thing different, was that Chris knew that they were travelling on the normal route, when he should have done as he had been informed, and that was to tell Grant to make a detour.

 

The first sign of trouble came when Grant saw some yellow waxen-coated men with lanterns waving at him to stop. “What’s up?” Grant asked on opening the driver’s window to speak to one of the men.

“The bridge doesn’t look too good tonight. You’d better go back,” replied one of the men.

“I can’t believe it. I’ve been over that bridge more times than I can remember, and I’ve got a load of passengers on board that won’t be very pleased with me, or the company, if they have a longer trip. We all want to get home, and if I turn this thing round it will add another hour and a half to the journey, on what is an already unpleasant night to be going anywhere,” Grant declared to the man with a lantern.

“On your own head be it, but don’t say you weren’t warned.” The man with the lantern moved aside and let Grant drive on towards the bridge. He turned to a fellow vigilante of the road and said, “I just hope the bridge will hold up under the weight of that coach, because if it doesn’t, someone’s head is going to roll, and it won’t be mine. I did warn him, but he was too proud, as well as being a know-it-all, to take any notice of what I said.”

“It’s not your fault. Come on, look lively, there’s another one coming up,” the two men walked up to a couple of cars that had been stopped by one of their yellow coated comrades.

 

Two kilometres further north of the bridge, there was a wall of contention that had been constructed precisely to ensure that in heavy downpours the river would not be under the threat of breaking its banks. No one had taken into account that the bridge was too old and over-used to take both heavy water and vehicles, and all through the day the bridge had been abused by both. Grant drove carefully over the first part of the bridge and felt assured that he would be able to carry on, when the sound of thunder came to his ears and the sudden extra strong rain went pounding down on anything and everything that was present. The bridge was so sodden with water it could take no more, and the brickwork started to break away just as the coach had begun its crossing. The lurching of the coach woke up the sleeping passengers, and as a result some of them began to scream when they saw the coach slowly sinking into the river. There was nothing but water around them, and therefore nothing dry to hold onto.

Chris realized what he had done, and thought that he didn’t deserve to live, but that everyone else did. In the circumstances he wasn’t able to do anything, and so what was done was done - and he had done it. As the coach sank beneath the river water, Chris felt a great impotence and hoped to die rather than face any survivors or their families.

 

On the far side of the river from the tragic accident and the breaking up of the ancient bridge, was a small village where some of the passengers were heading for. The sounds of people screaming were faintly heard by those who were coming out of pubs and restaurants. The police and firemen went out to see what they could do. They took every boat, however tiny, and directed them towards the place where they assumed the screams were coming from. Some divers went below the coach and got the door open and dragged out the drivers and the passengers. The people were so scared they panicked, and nearly got themselves and the rescuers drowned too. The yellow coated brigade stood and watched as the rescuers did their work. Some of the passengers were taken back to the side of the river where the sinking of the coach had started. The rest were taken to the village and the local hospitals, where they were tended to.

 

The hard darkness of the long night was dreadful, there was no moon or lights, the water was black, the sky too, and there was no relief from the feeling of not knowing where everyone was or if they had all been rescued. The river was running fast and overflowing its banks. The headquarters of the coach company was informed, and questions were asked about how it was possible that one of their vehicles had been allowed to take the more dangerous of the two routes. The authorities were informed that the driver had been informed of the danger, but for reasons still to be answered, he hadn’t heeded the advice.

 

In the parish hall of the village where the majority of the passengers had been rescued, those involved in the rescue were all sopping wet. The ladies of the village made up packets of basic necessities. Everyone was given a towel, shower gel, and shampoo. Showers had been installed some years ago, as the hall was quite often used as a sports venue. Then a bag with clean underwear, a track suit, heavy boots, and a big jacket was presented to each one. The local mayor had insisted that everyone had to do their best for the victims. There was to be no holding back.

When they were all cleaned up, and the worst thing they were suffering from was the cold and shock, they were given a hot meal. The passengers who were either very old or had a medical problem, were taken to the local hospital. The drivers were also taken to hospital, suffering from trembling nerves at what could so easily have been much worse than it was. The local police said they would be questioning them later on.

Some of the passengers had family in the village, but chose to remain in the parish hall to pass the night. They said it made no sense to go back out into the rain when they had got all cleaned up and fed. The hall had collapsible beds, and there they spent the rest of the night.

 

Meanwhile the black water churned around in the river and lapped up and over the river banks. The rescuers went back home to eat, sleep, and try to understand what had really happened. There were accidents and accidents, but to go out on such a dirty night had neither rhyme nor reason to it. Some of them stared out of their bedroom windows before getting into bed, wondering why it had happened, and what had in fact happened. Heads would roll for sure, but whose?

 

Early next morning, the passengers who had family in the village left the parish hall and went to their homes, happy to leave the memory of that horrid night behind them. The rest of the passengers, who still had to finish their journey, were served breakfast in the hall and were informed that a special bus would be set up for them to continue on their way. But before all that could happen, the police wanted to talk to them, to see if they knew of any motive why the driver had not taken any notice of the guards who had stopped the coach before going onto the bridge. Nobody knew anything. They had all been asleep, and only wanted to arrive.

Local television interviewed those rescued who still remained in the hall, and came to the conclusion that they had nothing all that interesting to report. A little group was formed of the rescued passengers by a man, a Mr. Thomas Cousins, who told the cameramen, “On behalf of those present, we’d like to give our thanks to the village, especially to all those who gave us such cordial treatment. I know we’ll never be able to repay you enough for what you did and are still doing for us. Thank you very much.” There was a round of applause, and one by one, some of the other rescued people got up to say thank you to their rescuers.

The rescuers who, under the auspices of the local fire brigade and constabulary, each told the television of the grave situation they had all seen and experienced the previous night.

The fire chief, Dennis Hunter, stepped forward and said a few words, saying how it had been, and that what was left of the bridge was to be pulled down. The television interviewer asked him, “Have you seen what’s left of the bridge, this morning, Sir?”

“We’ve had a brief look, but so far no one else has. Why don’t we all go outside and do so?”

The rescued and the rescuers followed the chief out of the parish hall and walked down to the river bed. The rain had stopped, nevertheless everything was dripping water and sopping wet, and the road that went up from the river to the village was nothing more than a mud track. There would have to be a terrific clean-up. The scene could hardly have been more desolate. The once ancient bridge was in bits and pieces of brickwork that were all over the place. The roof of the coach was visible to the eye, even though it had righted itself in the water. The water flowing in the river was still muddy, unlike the clear water that usually flowed. The fire chief took out some binoculars, and took a look at the other side of the river where the coach had gone under. The sight was pretty dismal there too, but not as bad as where they were standing. The passengers who were to continue their journey, gasped at the scene, and felt blessed not to have perished.

There was no reason to hang about, so the authorities went back to their jobs, and the passengers boarded the new coach and left.

The firemen took their largest engines filled with clear water, to clean up the area of the river and the main road leading up from the river to the village. After a few hours of heavy cleaning, it would have been difficult to say that anything out of the ordinary had taken place in that quiet corner.

 

Grant and Chris were in hospital. The police went to speak to them. Neither of the two drivers was inclined to talk. One of the detectives said, “According to your bosses, you were sent a message not to take that route over the old bridge due to the exceptionally heavy rain. True or false?”

Chris, who was suffering from post traumatic shock, laid back in his bed and said, “I don’t remember. The night was wet, it was raining heavily, and that’s all I can say.”

“It’s down on record that you answered the call when it was sent to you. Now you say you can’t remember. Don’t worry, we’ll go and speak to your mate.”

The same detective who had spoken to Chris, asked Grant, “Who was driving that night?”

“I was driving for the second part of the night. Chris drove the first hour and a half, and me the second. It’s a rule of the company to take turns to avoid over-tiredness.”

“What was your reaction when you knew that the bridge was not in a decent condition to be crossed?”

“I told the guard at the bridge that I couldn’t believe the bridge wouldn’t be able to support the coach. I’d driven over it so many times, it seemed to me at the time he was speaking, that he was exaggerating the state of things. I guessed it was more than likely that he was right and I was running a risk, but I chose to run that risk, and luckily the only damage done was to the coach. Nobody died, did they?”

“Not as far as we know, but there were some elderly people on board, and you certainly ran a stupid risk.”

“The coach company likes to have a profile of punctuality, and at the same time to take short-cuts where and when necessary. The situation can at times get a bit hairy when you’re confronted by extreme weather.”

“Your companion, Chris, said he was told by the company not to use that route but he never informed you. Now, why do you think that was?” the detective asked.

Grant had known nothing of the message, and said, “It’s the first time I’ve heard of his getting any message. I just did what I always do, and that’s drive as well as I can in whatever situation I find myself.”

“Thank you. We’ll be in touch.”

 

The detective went outside to where the detective constable was waiting for him. “Can you imagine the court case there’s going to be?”

The detective constable said in straightforward honesty, “I understand that many of these cases are solved out of court. That’s better for everyone - the company, the drivers, and the passengers - who will get an excellent deal. The whole thing will soon be forgotten, and everything back to normal.”

“I appreciate your pragmatic approach to the case, detective constable. The only thing never to be forgotten will be the broken bridge.”

“It might be a better idea if they never build another bridge in the same place. It was never a good spot to cross the river. There’s a bend just there which has a dangerous current, and is not a suitable place for swimming or having a picnic. No, Sir. I, for one, hope they put a new bridge in a different part of the river.”

 

The detective constable’s prediction was spot on. The case was settled out of court, to the satisfaction of everyone involved. The new bridge was constructed at a far more suitable site, away from any villages, off a quieter road. The bricks from the old bridge were sold, to be used in commemoration, or for decoration, or as souvenirs.

 

One year later, when the new bridge was inaugurated, the coach passengers and their rescuers were invited.

 

Not everyone attended. Some preferred to forget about the black night and the black water. 


© Copyright 2019 Georgina V Solly. All rights reserved.

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