Short Stories

Story Index

Ten Hypothetical and Plausible Deaths in London

Chiswick flyover. The Sun dully shone through the tinted windscreen of the red BMW. "What a day!" Paul said. He took a hand from the steering wheel and gently squeezed Catherine's thigh. Catherine laughed. "To think how nervous I was this morning ... " And her laugh was a pleasant tinkling. The motorway ended and the road began to twist its way over the gray terrace-rooftops of West London. Paul returned his hand to the steering wheel and concentrated on the road.
    The spinning tyres of an articulated lorry sang through the closed car window. The artic slowly passed, first the tractor unit, then the trailer. There - there was one big black spinning trailer wheel. The bends tightened again, and the lorry slowed. Now it almost seemed that the trailer was a big box floating in the breeze behind the tractor unit. The road curved away to the left, curved again more tightly. Still the lorry stayed beside the car. Catherine turned to look. Both she and Paul saw the front nearside tyre explode in a cloud of steam and rubber. The lorry lurched left, then right, then to the left again. The trailer wheels stopped spinning, peeled rubber, screamed. And still the lorry moved inexorably to the left. Paul stabbed his right foot on the brake, slowed, but already the trailer squeezed the car between itself and the barriers. The roof of the BMW buckled and bent. Paul reflexively ducked. Catherine sat still, stared fixedly forward. Then the windscreen shattered and she screamed. The trailer wheels caught the car, causing it to buck and kick. "Why doesn't he pull away?" Paul's last conscious thought. The lorry driver, old and frail, nerves and age tempered with alcohol and nicotine, lay slumped across the steering wheel, heart dead. The lorry careered on in its own mad way, which was the only way. The tractor unit twisted, the front axle ripped out: Wheels, axle, suspension smashed into the front of the car. Bones broke, bones buckled. Flesh and muscle severed. Blood stained the carpet and splintered fascia of the BMW.
    The axleless lorry toppled from the flyover's edge, dragging with it the broken piece of sheet metal that had once been a car. The drop was thirty feet, which was by this time largely irrelevant.

The Post House It was evening and they were in love. Slowly, carefully, Paul drove along the M4. It was their wedding day. A slow, dreamy, unreal day. He reached across to Catherine, pushed her skirt up a little, and caressed her thigh. She smiled.
    He eased the car down the sliproad and was soon in the carpark next to the hotel. Tomorrow, they would fly to Paris to begin their honeymoon. Tonight, they would be content in this airport hotel.
    Simple gestures. She took his hand, that had rested so warm on her thigh, and kissed it.
    Then: the foyer, the register, the muzak, the lift to the tenth floor.
    The feeling of unreality persisted, even between the sheets, as though something new had happened between them today, as though God had indeed joined them in some mysterious way, as though his breath still permeated the room, even though the DC10 had crashed through the walls of the hotel before they had consummated the marriage. In the deformed nose of the aircraft, captain and crew bled and broke in milliseconds, a moment in which dust and concrete peppered the naked bodies of the already mutilated lovers, before the wing tanks exploded, ripping apart the top stories of the hotel, charring and cremating dead Paul, dead Catherine.

In the car park, the red car waited.

The express lift. Catherine and Paul entered the lift the next morning, still sleepy, still dreamy, Catherine still feeling the wet slick of semen between her thighs. The doors slid together. Smiling secret and warm, Catherine turned to Paul and hugged him, loving him, squeezing him, nibbling his neck gently, wishing she could eat him. The lift went down, and continued down, stopping only at the basement in a tangled nightmare of metal and dead flesh. Blood trickled gently from between the distorted lift doors.

Still, quiet, the red BMW waited.

The Mile End Road. It had been a cold night, but the car started with a whisper that belied no complaint.
    "Why do you want to go there?" Catherine asked.
    "I used to live up the Mile End Road," Paul replied, "and the Blind Beggar was my local. It would be nice to see if any of the old faces are still there. They won't remember me, but.." He shrugged his shoulders. "You don't mind do you?" Paul asked. "We've got plenty of time before the plane takes off."
    Catherine smiled and shook her head. Of course she didn't mind. The red BMW pulled out of the Post House car park, headed into London. Dirty pavements. Dirty buildings. The throb of engines. A gray city. Dark; dark in the daytime. Even the trees and parks seem drained of colour. The cars and buses are the colours, the traffic roar the music, of an empty town. West End, City, East End. Soon, the Mile End Road, with the pubs just opening for the morning. Paul slowed the car and began to pull in to the side. Catherine gave a sudden small squeal as a car gently knocked the BMW from behind. Paul stopped the car and sighed. "I suppose I'd better look at the damage."
    Paul got out of the car, feeling a little angry, resenting this unnecessary intrusion into their day. He walked to the car behind him, watching the driver who sat rigidly, sweating oh fuck it what shall I do? The last thing I bleeding needed and here look here look the door is opening and here comes matey boy looking all cool shit what the christ am i going to do how do i get out of this shit what if he calls in the law and me with the bleeding shooter oh christ the shooter pick it up hide it shit he's seen it no wonder he's looking pissed shit the law and he can get them here tell them get them here and on an impulse the man blasted the shotgun wildly at Paul. The pellets ripped through his chest and shoulder, bloodily pulped half his head. Paul staggered and fell to the wing of the car. The man reversed wildly away, Paul sliding across the bonnet, sliding to the road.
    Catherine heard the shot, heard the tyres screaming behind her and flung herself from the car, screaming Paul's name, reached him, knelt and held his bloody hand, cradled the simulacrum of a head where half his handsome face remained, if not unmarked, at least still whole. She shook and stared through tears and wiped at her nose with the back of her hand.

The Blind Beggar. Hand in hand they entered The Blind Beggar. It was as Paul remembered it. Little seemed to have changed. One old man stood and stared at them as they entered. "Alright then?" he asked as Paul came to the bar. Paul smiled. The old man could still remember his face if not his name. He walked to the old man and patted his back. Over drinks they started talking of old times, new times, love, cats and sciatica.
    The pub started to fill. Catherine was feeling slightly drunk, admiring Paul's broad shoulders, when the door suddenly burst open. Two sombrely dressed men entered, grim-faced, carrying sawn-off shot guns. They walked up close behind Paul. One turned and covered the pub. A gun exploded with a deafening roar. Paul's head absorbed as many of the pellets and as much of the kinetic energy as it could before the brain burst through the weakened skull. Pieces of Paul's brain and skull spattered across her rouged cheeks and gobbets of blood struck her softly complexioned face, her eyes, stuck in her hair. Paul's head (brain, bone and blood) streamed forward across the bar like a rum and blackcurrant spew, exploded across the mirrors, glasses and bottles behind the bar.

The red BMW, insentient, insensate, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, waited neither patiently nor impatiently.

Beneath Green Park. Paul looked out at the dark tunnel wall speeding past. "Good idea, popping into town. I just hope we don't miss the plane."
    "Don't worry," Catherine replied, "plenty of time," and smiled gaily.
    The tube train rattled and rolled through the black tunnel, along the dark anonymous depths of the Piccadilly line. Catherine said: "We'll get out at Leicester Square. It'll bring back memories, When I was at college, we always used to come to Leicester Square to start our nights out. She smiled again, shyly. "Self-indulgent all this, isn't it
    "No. I feel the same way about the Mile End Road. I used to live around there." He smiled, reassuring.
    They were in the last car of the train. It was almost empty. The train began to slow, and he turned and kissed her. A long, slow soft kiss. Tender. He looked at her. "I love you." She smiled love in reply.
    "This must be Green Park," she said, talking nothing. He looked out of the window. It was still black.
    "We've stopped in the tunnel, " Paul said, and added knowledgeably, "there must be another train in the station."
    The other passengers sat quietly. Ten minutes passed. The train had still not moved. The other passengers were staring out of the windows, reading books, looking at the upholstery.
    "This is one aspect of the Underground I'd forgotten," Catherine said.
    One aspect she had never known was the sensation of another train hitting theirs at speed from behind. Metal sang and screamed as the rear carriages buckled and split. The rear two carriages pivoted about their links and smashed into the roof of the tunnel. The deaths of the passengers at that point, and of Catherine and Paul at the rear, were instantaneous.
    Imagine such a moment. What sensations are there? We can only guess. A sudden burst of adrenaline as the noise and vibration registers on the nervous system. All the muscles suddenly ready for flight. A few fleeting images, dim, possibly, and never brought to mind again. Time to scream? Time to turn and whisper that you love her, you love him, that now, not now, this is not the time to die? There is only time to die. There might be time to feel the buffeting shock to your anatomy as the metal walls of the train crush you, breaks ribs, squeezes lungs and heart, and the blood begins to seep. But you and the train are broken amid the settling dust.

The BMW, shining, sits in the hotel car park. Neither moved nor unmoved. A cold wind blows around and about it. It feels nothing.

Leicester Square. Catherine and Paul exited from Piccadilly Circus tube station, and walked idly to Leicester Square, across the crowded Plaza, past Athena, past the Empire, past the drunks on the walls and benches, past the iron railings by the toilets.
    The car was an old green Mini, parked awkwardly on a double yellow line. "He's got a parking ticket," Paul laughed. There was only a fragment of a second in which to register the buffeting, body breaking force as the car exploded. Where once had been smiles and bright eyes of love, now were shredded clothes, dismembered, eviscerated, blackened bodies. Catherine and Paul had vowed before God to stay together, but only the hard faced regulars with their body bags could ever return them to a semblance of togetherness. Near the daggered doors of the Odeon lay her bloody finger, still circled by her ring.

London Transport. They passed through Leicester Square, commenting on the Mini with its parking ticket, and turned into Charing Cross Road. Paul and Catherine held hands and smiled as they walked. Distracted by love, distracted by this glorious feeling. I never want to leave you. It was a thought. Perhaps he should say it. Paul turned to Catherine and smiled. A group of tourists walked down the road toward them. "I shall say it," he thought as he stepped into the road so that they could still hold hands as they passed the group.
    All Catherine felt was a sudden dramatic jolt in her left arm and the fingers of her left hand being pulled from their sockets. Then she heard, suddenly, the roar of the bus's engine, the whinging complaint of its tyres. She did not see his body bounce across the front of the bus and spill out dazed and concussed into the path of a black cab. Bones broke, a lung punctured, the skull fractured.
    Catherine noticed how sharp everything had become. Outlines of buildings hyperfocused. The colours of the clothes of those who had stopped around her, sharing in some kind her horror, looked praeternaturally bright. Was this horror she felt? A numbness began to flow through her. Where was he? Where was he now, when she needed him to console her over the loss of her dear husband?
    The blood from his cracked skull, ribs, and punctured lungs trickled down the camber, a thin red stream that inched its way across the hot London tarmac to fall with gentle drips into the drain by her feet. She reached down and touched her index finger into the blood.

The Poison Ferrule. London. Alive. Teeming with tourists and commuters. A city of action and life. A massed dance of humanity. Catherine did not see the man with the furled umbrella. Neither did Paul. He felt the tip strike through his shoe. He turned to say sorry to the smartly dressed stranger. But instead fell to one knee. Pain seared though his foot. He turned again to see the dark overcoat and pinstriped legs moving away. A crowd pressed around Catherine and Paul, and the pinstripes were gone. Paul started to scream as something seemed to burn in his leg. But no sound came. He looked up at Catherine, grasped her hand. She mouthed words at him.
    Sorry, he wanted to say, I can't hear you.
    People had stopped to stare down at him. She was rushing around the ring of blank expressions, seeking help. Some people clearly embarrassed or numbed by their own ineffectuality, turned away. He noticed he was lying down. When had that happened? He turned his face to smile at her, say:
    Don't worry, we'll be in France tomorrow.
    She sunk to her knees beside him, twisted his head toward her, ran her fingers through his hair. He could feel nothing, but could see the tears beginning to form in her eyes.
    No, don't cry love. The world is already full of pain, and death and pain. You have seen the dead so often. Seen the body bags on the TV. Seen the knifes, the guns, heard the shots and the shouts and anger. Seen the scarred old ladies, stitched, lying in bed, smiling out at the world's pain, all for two pounds. My death is just one more image. I am one more image. Tonight I will be on the TV. My face. My name and age. And you too, sweet one. We shall be one more image of death for a nation inured to pain by our pain. Our wedding photograph, perhaps. You and I, smiling, looking happy on our wedding day. Put together by God. Never to be torn asunder.
    What does all this death mean?
    You are crying freely now. I can see your body, hunched over mine, shoulders shaking. Your lovely shoulders. I wish I could hear you. I wish I could hear you. Say you love me. Listen to me. I just want to
    Catherine felt his breathing stop. Felt the tears on her cheeks. The snot in her nose. Standing, she turned and pressed through the crowd.

Blackfriars. Standing, she turned and pressed through the crowds. She walked through the gray London streets, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, remembering nothing. Only aware of the steady insistence of her walk, heels slow, rhythmic on the pavement. Soon, she found herself beside the Thames. Lazy boats plied the slow moving god. Walking along Victoria embankment, cars spitting past, remembering, thinking. Here and there a bridge thrust its spans across the water: Slow-moving water, slow like her thoughts. A couple, smiling, hand in hand, passed her.
    Suddenly, inside, she felt, she remembered, and pain flooded through the new hole into her body. Pain. Back there, somewhere, he lay surrounded now by police and ambulancemen. How she had loved him. And in his dying moments had never told him. Wavelets danced across the Thames, as she began to cry, silently, painfully. Then huge, breathy sobs, and tears big and fat with fear and loneliness.
    When the sobs had died a little, she began to slowly follow the river again, until she could bear her loneliness no longer and they found her body, swinging slowly, hung by her stockings from Blackfriars Bridge.

The red BMW is a thing of steel. Its highly polished paintwork shines in the bright morning light. It sits on fat low profile tyres, not feeling the bitter wind that whips across the hotel car park. If there was anyone to turn the key now, six precisely engineered pistons would slide easily within the accurately machined block. The whisper that passed for engine noise would tell you nothing of the power hidden beneath the bonnet. The power is allied to luxury, the interior as comfortable as the engine functional. The red BMW car develops 125 bhp. From a standing start it can reach a quarter mile in 17 seconds. It has a top speed of 135 mph.