Unparalleled, page 1
D. S Smith
For Vicki, Emma and Charlotte. Thank you for the love, for the inspiration and for the belief.
In memory of Edith Smith, my mother, who would have been 100 years old this year.
He regained consciousness to the distant sound of passing cars. Every few minutes, starting off quiet, gradually getting louder and fading away again. He opened his eyes, squinting against the early morning sun that shone low through the fence. The fence surrounding him with tall iron bars curved at the top and tipped with ends like spears. He had no idea where he was or how he had gotten there but it all looked vaguely familiar, like he should recognise it but could not. He remembered falling. Falling forward into darkness, spinning and tumbling as he fell. No sound, no light, just falling. And the sickness, he remembered the sickness in his stomach. He felt it now. He leaned over and retched but nothing came out. With some effort he pushed himself up onto his knees and onto his feet. His head throbbed and he felt dizzy but he managed to stay standing. He heard another car pass by in the distance. Where the hell am I, he thought? And why am I naked? He covered his genitals with his hands as he turned to look for a way out but the fence stretched all the way around, stopping only when it met with a large stone building. The wall of the building was completely flat and as tall as the fence so there was no way he could climb out. As he approached the building he noticed there were two hatchways cut into the wall, each blocked by a metal gate. Perhaps one of these would offer a way out. He approached one of the gates. There were two handles at the bottom suggesting the gate either swung outwards or lifted upwards. He took hold of the handles and lifted. At first there was considerable resistance and he thought he was not going to be able to lift it. But the gate clicked twice and shot up under its own inertia.
Before he had chance to register what was happening, two huge paws struck him at shoulder height and knocked him to the ground. He felt an immense pressure on his chest which pinned him to the floor. He heard a deafening roar and felt hot, foul breath on his face. The last thing he saw was the gaping smile of the devil in front of his eyes revealing teeth the size of pitchfork prongs.
Stuart woke with a start. His head throbbed and he felt sick to the stomach. He massaged his right temple with the thumb of his right hand and rubbed his forehead with the remaining four fingers. He lay still on the bed feeling the force of gravity press down on him as he tried to piece together what had happened.
“We’re going to have a baby.” He said the words out loud and they echoed through his mind. “Lauren’s pregnant.” The words lifted his spirit but his head still banged and his stomach still churned. “What the hell did we do last night?” he said out loud. “It must have been some celebration!” Without moving his head he reached out to the bedside cabinet fumbling for his phone to check the time. He patted the top of the cabinet expecting to make contact with it but instead caught something metallic with the side of his hand and sent it tumbling to the ground. He could hear liquid pouring and he got a strong whiff of beer. “Oh shit, she’ll kill me,” he complained to himself as he tried to muster up the energy to lean over and survey the damage. After three attempts he finally managed to twist his upper body enough to look over the edge of the bed. Sure enough there was the offending beer can spewing brown liquid all over the cream and brown striped rug. He stared for a moment at the rug, his eyes trying to focus at the pattern made by the stripes. He followed the stripes to end of the rug where it revealed the brown laminated flooring on which it lay. He followed the flooring to a white skirting board at the foot of a cream wall. He gazed at the cream wall surrounding a white door with a silver handle. He picked out the wall again at the other side of the door and followed it to the point where it became obscured by a mirror-fronted, white wardrobe. He could see cream curtains reflected in the mirrored doors contrasting perfectly with the chocolate-brown quilt cover adorning the bed on which he lay. He twisted over onto his back again letting his throbbing head fall heavily onto the soft pillows. He groaned to himself, “Where the hell am I?” He lay motionless, staring at the ceiling as he tried to remember what he had done the previous night and how he could have ended up in this strange bed. He considered getting up to look around and try to work out where he was but he felt too sick. His thoughts returned to Lauren. He pictured her walking out of their bathroom holding the pregnancy test in front of her and uttering those words: “We’re going to have a baby.” He remembered hugging her and kissing her excitedly before letting go and apologising for squeezing too hard. She laughed and said she was not going to break and neither would the baby. They made love, him with the same caution, her with the same reassurances. He remembered waking up with her the next morning and making her breakfast in bed before leaving her to go to work, kissing her on the forehead and stomach before saying goodbye. That was all he could remember. The time between leaving Lauren and waking up in the bed he was now in had been erased from his memory. “It must be the drink,” he thought to himself. “How much did I drink?” he said out loud. Just then, a phone rang and things got stranger. He recognised the tune coming from the phone. The steel drum reggae piece, synonymous with cricket thanks to the BBC. He did not know whose phone it was, or indeed where it was. Against his will he dragged himself out of bed and tried to home in on the inappropriate upbeat ringtone. He discovered the sound emanating from a pile of clothing at the foot of the bed. He lifted up a crumpled pair of jeans from the pile and removed the phone from one of the pockets. As he fumbled with the handset, trying to work out which button to press, the phone stopped. He stared at the words adorning the illuminated display, “1 missed call” and the options − “view” − “cancel”. He selected view and the letters
“I might have known he’d be involved,” he said to himself with a smile. He pressed the call button and waited until a voice replaced the ringtone. “Hey, Stu me old son, you are alive then?” He immediately recognised the voice of his brother Dave. “Barely! How’d yer know it was me?” he asked. “Err der, caller I.D. Who else would be calling me on your number?”
“Yeh but this is not my phone is it, smart arse?”
“Uh, whatever! Get the kettle on I’ll be round in five.” The phone went dead, leaving Stuart staring once again at the handset in complete confusion. He shrugged it off and decided to get dressed before his brother arrived. He looked again at the crumpled pile of clothes on the floor but they were not his. He put the phone back into the pocket of the jeans and looked around the room trying to find his own. Whilst he was looking around he caught sight of his naked reflection in the mirror. “What the f…………?” He stopped mid-sentence, his attention drawn toward a picture on the wall, a picture of himself dressed in bright red ski wear coursing down a slope on a snowboard. He looked more closely at the photo. It was definitely him, but why was there a picture of him snowboarding, he had never snowboarded in his life and why was it on the bedroom wall of a house he had never been in until now?
Before he had chance to consider this further he heard a loud banging coming from downstairs. He looked around again in search of his clothes but they were nowhere to be seen. He opened the wardrobe thinking maybe in his drunken stupor he had managed to hang them up but there was nothing that looked familiar. In his haste he grabbed at the nearest thing to cover his nakedness, a dark blue dressing gown. It fit him perfectly. There were also several pairs of boxer shorts on a shelf. He hesitated before removing a pair and smelling them to check that they were clean. More banging came from downstairs. He heard his brother shouting from outside. “Come on Stu, bloody hell, it’s pissing down out here.” He ran downstairs and opened the door to be greeted by a clean shaven, short-haired version of his younger brother. Dave barged passed him flicking water on him as he did so. “What took you so long? I could of caught me death.” They both stopped and looked at each for a moment. “Jesus, look at the state of you Stu. Come on let’s have a brew and you can tell me all about it you dirty slag.”
“I’m hoping you can tell me all about it.” Stuart replied. His brother looked at him oddly as he disappeared into one of three doors that led from the hallway. Stuart followed him and watched as his brother busied himself filling a kettle, opening cupboards, grabbing cups and tea bags. He seemed to know his way around so Stuart relaxed a little hoping Dave would be able to explain what was going on. He took a seat at the table and rested his head in his hands. “What did we do last night Bro, and how much did we drink?”
“Hey, it wasn’t so much we. You were knocking them back like they were going out of fashion. I was the sensible one.”
“Well we were celebrating. Shit, that reminds me. I’d better call Lauren, she’ll want to know where I am. Where am I?”
“Lauren, so that was her name! She was a stunner, no wonder you were celebrating. Anyway, what do you mean where am I? Don’t you want her to know where you live or something?”
“What?” Stuart jumped up and looked around the kitchen.
“I need to find my clothes, my phone, my wallet… Dave, where the fuck am I?”
“Whoa, ok, just calm down and get your shit together. Sit back down, drink yer tea and I’ll go and find your stuff.” Dave left the kitchen and ran upstairs. Stuart could hear him stomping around for about a minute before heading back down. “Here you go, phone, wallet, watch, all in yer pockets where you left them.” Stuart stared at the objects in front him before looking up at his brother with disdain. “Are you winding me up?”
“No, that’s exactly where they were. Why’s that so surprising?”
“Dave, this is not my stuff and you know it.”
“Bollocks, now you’re winding me up.” Stuart rested his face in his hands trying to get his head around what was going on. He looked back up at his brother who stared back at him with concern on his face. “Dave, do me a favour. Go upstairs and get my jeans for me.” Dave did as he was asked, mumbling to himself as he headed upstairs, “What did yer last one die of?” He was back within seconds holding the jeans Stuart had found the phone in earlier. He took the jeans from him shaking his head has he did so. “Dave, they’re not mine. Stop playing with my head, I’m really not in the mood for this.”
“Stuart, what are you talking about? These are your jeans, you were wearing them last night. I have seen you wearing them tons of times. What the hell is wrong with you?” Stuart sat back down at the table. He leaned back composing himself for the answer his brother was about to give to his next question. “Dave, joking aside, where are we now?”
“What do you mean where are we now? Is this some sort of profound, soul-searching question? Are you having one of those, what am I doing with my life moments?” He made quotation marks in the air with his fingers.
“Stop fucking around. Whose house is this?”
“Well the bank’s I suppose but you’ll own it one day when you’re old and grey and still living here on your own.” He hobbled around stooping like a decrepit old man. Stuart felt the anger rising inside him. His brother was renowned for being a practical joker but this was way beyond any stunt he had pulled before.
“No Dave, I mean whose house is this?” He picked the wallet up off the table, “Whose wallet is this?” He banged it back down onto the table with a hard thud, his temper rising with the volume of his voice. “Whose table is this? Whose fucking bed did I wake up in this morning? Where the fuck am I and where is my wife?”
Dave leaned forward calmly and picked up the wallet from the table. He removed a pink card and threw it in front of Stuart.
“Stuart Milton, driving license.” He removed another card, “Stuart Milton, Barclaycard Visa.” He removed one more, “Stuart Milton, Fitness First Gym membership. Now I don’t know what’s going on in that head of yours but you’re starting to scare me now. You got very drunk last night and when I left you were all over a gorgeous brunette and seemed very pleased with yourself. What happened after I left I don’t know, but I do know that this is your house and these are your belongings. I suggest you go back to your bed and sleep off whatever it is that is fucking with your mind.” Stuart thought for a moment, ruminating on the words his brother had just fed to him. None of it made any sense. Who was this brunette woman? Lauren was blonde. “Dave, where was Lauren while all this was going on last night, was she out with us?”
“Lauren, is that what her name was?”
“You know very well who Lauren is. Oh and by the way, she’s pregnant.”
“You’ve got some bird pregnant? Is that what this is all about? Bloody hell Stu. No wonder your heads messed up.”
Stuart looked at his brother. “Some bird? He snapped. “Why you talking about Lauren like that, as if she’s a stranger? I’m delighted my wife’s pregnant. You know we’ve been trying for ages.” Dave pulled up a chair and placed it so he was sitting directly opposite his older brother. He sat down and took hold of both of his hands. Looking him directly in the eyes he spoke slowly and clearly. “I do not know who Lauren is but I do know you are not married. Now either you are messing with me or you need help because you are making absolutely no sense at all, Bro.”
Stuart considered this for a few seconds before jumping up from his seat and pulling his hands away from his brothers’. He grabbed the jeans that were not his and pulled them over the boxer shorts that were not his either. He left the kitchen, went upstairs and entered the bedroom where he had woken up about thirty minutes previously. Opening the wardrobe, he made a cursory glance at the contents before grabbing a red polo shirt from one of the hangers. There were shoes in the bottom of the wardrobe so he grabbed a pair and slipped them on over his bare feet paying no real attention to the fact they fit perfectly. H
“Well I didn’t walk here.”
“Right come on then. I’m in no state to drive.” He grabbed his brother by the shirtsleeve and led him outside. “Which one’s yours?” Dave just looked at him strangely and pointed his keys toward a silver VW Golf that chirped and flashed in response to the pressing of a button on the key toggle. “OK, where are we going?”
“This is your house Stuart.”
“No it’s not. Lauren and I live at 11 Cromwell Rd, Croydon. You know that, you’ve been there many times.”
“Right, I’ll go along with it. What’s the postcode? I’ll stick it in the sat nav.”
“CRO 2J7.” They pulled away from the curb, Stuart sat resolute in the passenger seat, arms folded, looking straight ahead, Dave concentrating on the driving but sparing a concerned glance over at his brother every so often. Neither of them spoke for about twenty minutes before Stuart broke the silence.
“By the way, what’s with the new groomed look? You got a job interview or something?”
“What you on about now Stu?” Dave asked, but before his brother could answer, the Estuary English female voice of the sat nav informed them they had reached their destination.
Without hesitation, Stuart jumped out of the car and headed for a bright red front door with white PVC figures on it displaying the number 11. He tried the handle but the door was locked so he knocked hard on the wooden panel. After a few seconds, a young girl no more than about ten years old opened the door. “Oh hello,” Stuart said with surprise in his voice as he walked passed her into the house. The girl immediately screamed out. “Mum, quick, there’s a man coming into the house.” Dave leapt out of the car shouting after his brother. “Stuart no, wait, you can’t just barge in like that.” Stuart stood in the hallway feeling disorientated. None of it looked right, the decor, the carpets and the young girl, completely alien to him. His head span and he tried to shout out for Lauren but no words came out. He became aware of someone approaching him from the stairs. “Who the hell do you think you are pushing your wa—” He didn’t hear the rest of the sentence. There were lights swimming in front of his eyes and a loud buzzing in his ears. His head was spinning and he felt nauseous. Then darkness came and he felt nothing.