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07:11 – Eastbrook, Valley Bridge Hotel, Room 6 – Nick reached out and hit the snooze button. He lay for a moment, staring at the damp-stained ceiling, contemplating the day ahead. He swung his feet out of bed and sat on the edge of the lumpen mattress, fumbling for his socks. It had been full-on last night, that was for sure. Clearly he had failed in his promise not to over-indulge. His head was banging fit to split.

07:13 – Hemston, 43 Elm Drive – Ellie pulled away from the house, sliding her prescription sunglasses on. The air conditioning in her Ford Explorer was already working hard to beat the days heat, despite the early hour. Ellie sighed. She had hoped for cooler weather for the journey.

07:23 – Rowan Logistics Depot, Tillingworth – Tyler took the pile of paperwork from his Logistics Manager, laughing politely at a lame joke. He stepped out of the office and stood for a moment at the top of the stairs, breathing the morning air, enjoying the blue sky, the gentle breeze. Another beautiful day to be a trucker.

07:37 – Eastbrook, Valley Bridge Hotel, Foyer – Nick paid the motel bill and pushed through the glazed door to the car park. He swung his rucksack onto the back seat of his old jeep and collapsed into the driver's seat. He groaned. He ought really to wait a couple of hours, let his body recover from last night's excesses, but he was anxious to get to the clear air of the mountains. He turned the ignition key, heaving a sigh of relief when the engine roared into life.

07:42 – Rowan Logistics Depot, Tillingworth – Tyler completed his checks, then clambered into the cab of his truck, settling comfortably into his seat. The engine was ticking over, smooth jazz playing on the stereo, air-con softly blowing. He was good to go.

07:42 – Penton, 102 North Street - Donna yelled a cheery 'goodbye' to her mother, rammed her black open-face helmet onto her head, and climbed onto her turquoise scooter. She didn't hear her mother's plea to take care as the engine screamed into life. She roared out of the drive, her long brown hair flowing out from beneath the helmet. She didn't look back.

07:56 – Hemston, Northern Bypass - Ellie gripped the steering wheel, forcing herself to breathe slowly. 'Stay calm,' she instructed herself. The queue of traffic stretched into the distance. Traffic lights cycled through red, amber, green, having no impact whatsoever upon the stationary vehicles. She glanced at the clock on the dash and groaned. She had covered barely six miles.

07:59 – Tyler pulled onto the motorway sliproad. The motorway looked clear, traffic moving freely. A patrol car cruised along in the nearside lane, looking for trouble. Tyler eased in behind him.

08:01 – Penton, KFC Roundabout, High Street Junction – Donna weaved through the traffic, eyes fixed upon the lights ahead. 'Stay green! Stay green!' She screamed through just as they flicked from amber back to red. A driver pulling away from the right a little prematurely leaned on his horn. She flipped him a gesture and squeezed through the queuing traffic.

08:14 – Kaillin Highway, heading out of Eastbrook – clutching a take-away coffee in one hand, Nick barrelled along the road, windows down, his long curly hair dancing in the breeze. The coffee had restored him, taking the edge off his headache. He punched up a retro station on the radio and sang along to a track that had been a hit before he was born. He smiled as he looked ahead at the purple smudge on the distant horizon. The mountains.

08:25 – Lillycroft Services, five miles north of Hemston – Ellie pulled in next to the pump, cursing her stupidity for not filling up last night. The fuel here cost a fortune, but she could hardly spare the time now to pull off at one of the many towns en-route. The traffic in Hemston had set her back half-an-hour already. She filled up, paid, and roared back onto the motorway, earning herself a hefty blast from the lorry she pulled out in front of.

08:33 – Tyler took the sliproad for the Appleshot Interchange, scanning the motorway ahead for the transition. He smoothly guided the truck into a gap between two others, flashing his lights in thanks to the trucker behind. He was making good progress, traffic was still moving freely, the load seemed stable and the weather was fine. Trucking didn't get much better than this.

08:34 – Penton, Penton City College, Ring Road – Donna revved the little scooter hard and screamed across the road into the car park. Horns blared and tyres squealed as drivers were forced to take evasive action. Donna was oblivious. She flipped the stand on the scooter and raced into the art block, shouting out a greeting to her tutor. She snatched up a video camera and a memory stick, signed the log book, then hurried back out to the scooter, cramming everything into her holdall as she went.

08:50 – Appleshot, motorway - Ellie answered a call on her phone, fiddling impatiently with the Bluetooth earpiece. The Ford drifted out of lane and a white van swerved out, fish-tailing. The driver glared at her as he passed, shaking his head. She ignored him and over-corrected her steering, sending the Ford briefly onto the hard shoulder.

9:23 – Kaillin, foothills of the Kaillin Mountains – Nick eased the Jeep through the crowded town, past the multiple outdoor gear shops, the ski shops, the bike rental shops, the fast food chains and the hiking company touts shouting for custom. He needed none of them. Forsaking the Kaillin Pass, he took a side street that led to the back route up the mountains. The Jeep could handle pretty much anything those tracks threw at it and he was an experienced off-roader. It was the first chance he had to get away from the chaos, the crowds, the bustle and he took it enthusiastically.

09:25 – Kaillin Road, six miles south of Penton – Donna sang at the top of her voice as the scooter carried her along the road towards the mountains. She had missed the sunrise of course, she'd never be able to get out of bed early enough for that, but she knew some good places in the forests where the light fell in shafts through the trees, landing in sparks on the water. She'd get some good footage for her coursework there. A four-cab roared passed her, its driver laughing at the young girl singing on her scooter. She gave him a cheerful wave and carried on singing.

09:35 – back route, Kaillin Mountains – Nick screeched to a stop, the dust cloud that had been trailing his Jeep temporarily overtaking. He grabbed his camera and climbed onto the roof of the Jeep, bringing the camera up to capture the view. He paused, looking at the view finder, then lowered the device. Such a view could never be captured. He sat, cross-legged on the roof, just enjoying it.

09:46 – Kaillin approach – Tyler brought the truck's speed down to fifty, in line with the speed limit as the motorway switched to dual carriageway. The first sticking point of his journey was ahead; Kaillin. A regular nightmare for all truckers, things had improved only slightly now that a southern bypass had been completed. There was still a gauntlet of roundabouts, traffic lights and a steady stream of tourists to contend with. He adjusted his position in the seat and concentrated on the road ahead. The beautiful weather always brought extra visitors to the mountains.

09:52 – Kaillin approach – Ellie groaned at the sight of the traffic backing up out of the town. The scenery, normally so appealing, meant nothing to her today. She just wanted to get past it and be on her way. She swung the Explorer into the outside lane and pushed her way past the tourist traffic, gritting her teeth as a coach pulled out in front of her. She thumped the steering wheel in frustration. These people were on holiday, for heaven's sake. She had a schedule to stick to.

09:59 – back route, Kaillin Mountains – Nick coaxed the Jeep up a steep section, peering through the thickening forest for the cut-through to the hostel. Spotting it, he pulled the steering wheel over and gunned the engine, sending the Jeep up the incline at speed. He landed at the top with a thump and let out a whoop. The air smelled so good up here. He eased off the throttle and picked his way along the root rutted track with care.

10:03 – Kaillin Pass, north side – Donna scowled at the tourist types in their city cars, crawling up the pass and gawping at the scenery. She twisted and swung the scooter onto the other side of the road, willing the inadequate engine to go faster. A car rocketed towards her, lights flashing, the driver frantically waving his arms. She pulled in just in time, then pulled out again as soon he had passed, to overtake a lorry crawling up the 40% climb.

10:04 – Kaillin Pass, south side – Tyler listened to a call on the CB radio, a warning to all oncoming traffic that a young girl on a bike was out to kill herself on the pass. He shook his head. Every year the pass claimed youngsters on their bikes, their inexperience and impetuousness quite literally the deaths of them on this unforgiving road. He thanked his fellow trucker for the warning, promising to keep a lookout.

10:05 – Kaillin Pass, south side – Ellie's fingers were gripping the steering wheel so hard her knuckles were white. She shouted at the cars in front, rocking backwards and forwards in her seat like a woman possessed. They were barely moving thanks to a heavy goods vehicle at the head of the queue. Surely they shouldn't be allowed to use the pass?

10:06 – Kaillin Pass, south side – Ellie spotted a gap and hit the accelerator, pushing the Explorer past the tourists blocking her path. A van hurtled towards her, leaving her no choice but to force her way back into the traffic on her side. Horns rang out indignantly.

10:08 – Kaillin Hikers' Hostel – Nick dropped his rucksack in his room, then hurried back out, eager to hit the trail to the peak.

10:11 – Kaillin Pass, north side – Donna gunned the engine and forced the scooter past a coach, ignoring the rows of faces peering out of the window at her. If she didn't get the footage and return the camera to the college by 5pm, she would have to pay a fine. She had no time to play nice with the trippers. The driver of the VW on the other side was less than impressed at being forced to drive on the verge to avoid her, but she made it past the coach.

10:12 – Kaillin Pass, south side – Tyler watched in his mirror as the Ford Explorer came up the road behind him. She was all over the road, weaving in and out as the oncoming traffic permitted. She was going the right way to have an encounter with a tree. He sighed and focussed ahead, all too aware of the queue building up behind him. He was nearing the highest point, then he would have a whole new set of problems, keeping the heavy load to a manageable speed on the decline. He glanced up as something flicked into view above the trees. Just a plane.

10:12 – Kaillin Pass, north side – Donna cleared the highest point, her front wheel lifting clear of the ground. It landed with a thump, hitting a stone. The wheel skittered out sideways. Donna fought to bring the bike back under control, massively overcorrecting. The wheel flipped back the other way, pitching her off. She skidded along the tarmac, staring ahead at the very large truck tyre heading towards her. She couldn't remember screaming.

10:12 – Kaillin Pass, south side – Tyler looked back at the road, spotting the scooter too late. He stood on the brakes, cranking the steering wheel over, but the load was heavy and the truck responded slowly.

10:12 – Kaillin Pass, south side – Ellie saw the truck pulling out in front of her. She had no time to brake. Instead she hauled the steering wheel over and ploughed into the forest to the right.

10:12 – Kaillin Forest Trail – Nick heard a scream, a squeal of tyres, and then a thundering crash. He stopped, head cocked to one side. Then he started to run.

10:12 – Kaillin Pass – Donna was helpless. She tried to arrest the slide, but her hands merely scraped against the tarmac, the skin ripping from her palms. The tyre drew closer, closer. Then, at the last second it turned, just a fraction. She skimmed alongside it, her jacket catching on an oversized wheel nut. She hauled her leg clear and lay, whimpering, chest heaving, half under the truck, half in the open.

10:12 – Kaillin Pass – The cab heeled forwards as the truck came to a stop, then bounced back on its suspension. Tyler was out of the door before it settled, stumbling down to the ground, dropping to his knees to look for the girl. He spotted her on the other side of the truck, just lying on the road. Illogically he crawled beneath the truck to get to her, rather than running around the front. He reached out for her, hardly daring to touch. Then he heard her moan.

10:12 – Kaillin Pass – The Ford Explorer burst through the trees, splintering wood and shedding carbon fibre. Ellie fought with the wheel, but it spun back, snatching at her fingers. The car bucked and bounced over pits and roots and then, suddenly, it began to descend, quite slowly at first. Ellie stamped on the brakes, but the tyres were on no surface to grip. Down, faster, faster. Ellie surrendered the wheel at last to shield her face from the inevitable.

10:12 – Kaillin Forest – Nick charged through the forest, heedless of the grasping brambles and branches. At some point he discarded his backpack, dropping it to the ground as he sprinted through the trees in the direction of the commotion. He could see a great cloud of dust ahead, could smell fuel, could hear a scream, long and pleading. He ran faster.




10:13 – Kaillin Pass – Donna lay, clutching Tyler's hand. She sobbed and bit her lip, and tried to suppress the groans as a passing first aider tended her injuries. She heard a whisper, broken leg, but she ignored it. It told her nothing she didn't already know.

10:14 – Kaillin Pass – Tyler was lying full length, on his belly beneath the truck, clutching Donna's hand. Her cheeks were damp with tears and he reached forwards with his spare hand to tenderly stroke them dry. Her helmet was slightly askew, squashing her face, but he could see how young she was, how pretty, how terrifyingly vulnerable. Why the hell had he looked away?

10:15 – Kaillin Forests – The Ford had come to rest, nose down in a ravine. It's rear tyres, free of the ground, still turned, though Nick couldn't hear the engine running. He scrambled down the ravine, grasping at roots and rocks to steady himself. The smell of fuel was overpowering and he could hear a steady dripping from somewhere in the wreckage. The ground was thick with leaf litter, dry after so many weeks of summer. One spark. Nick paused. Then he heard a groan and hurried to the driver's door.

10:16 – Kaillin Forest, unnamed ravine – Ellie opened her eyes to see nothing. She coughed and nearly passed out with pain. She thought she could hear a voice in the distance, but she couldn't be sure. Everything was dark, and there was a cloying choking smell, making the air almost unbreathable. She tried to move. Had to get out. Dark. Smell. Danger. But she couldn't work out which way to go. And then, with a rush of air, her door was wrenched open. She groaned and a hand reached in, fighting with her seat belt. A shoulder pushed her back in her seat, a masculine shoulder. The belt came free and she slumped forwards. Her rescuer caught her, lifting and dragging her from the car. She screamed in pain, but he was relentless, pulling and pulling. And then she was free, and he was carrying her away from the wrecked Ford.

10:17 – Kaillin Forest, unnamed ravine - Nick didn't stop to look. He didn't stop to assess the damage, to check her injuries. He pulled her clear of the car, then hoisted her onto his shoulder and sprinted down the ravine. They were ten metres clear when the flames reached the first tyre. It exploded, nearly knocking Nick to the ground. Still he didn't stop. He pounded on, with the woman bouncing against his back. He could hear her cries of pain, but he pressed on to safety.

10:18 – Kaillin Pass, south side - A woman in a Citroen caught up in the traffic chaos screamed in surprise as a young man burst out of the trees with a blood-stained woman over his shoulder. He stopped, gently lowering the woman to the ground. The woman in the Citroen climbed out and rushed to his side.

10:50 – Local Radio – 'Kaillin Pass is closed to all traffic due to a serious incident. Emergency services are treating two casualties at the roadside. The air ambulance is believed to be en-route. There are also reports that firefighters are tackling a blaze in the Kaillin Forest. Motorists are advised to avoid this area at the current time.'


© 2012 Kay Lawrence.


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