This is one of the short stories I wrote last month for my horror compilation. It is dedicated to Jim Connick, who has a fear of going round a corner quickly and being impaled on a pointy thing, which he blames on the film Dog Soldiers.
I’m running for the last bus, slipping and sliding on wet concrete in old cons wi nae grips, hurdling knocked ower bins and homeless folk and piles of vomit, breathing hard as my tired lungs gasp in cold night air.
There’s sweat dripping down my back fae the gig, a phenomenal gig, so much energy, I was down the front the hail time jumpin and singin and aw round me were smiling faces feeling the same buzz. It’s not often you get a night out like that these days.
Maist night clubs are at chuck-out time the now so folk keep blocking ma way; confused looking women stumble out in the light rain in tiny wee dresses and shag me shoes as big groups of drunken guys wearing too much aftershave leer after them, confused brains wondering whether tae grab a kebab or try for a quick fumble in the taxi rank or maybe try for both.
Good luck to them, I think, I’ve no got the money for a cab and my bus goes any second.
At the end of St Vincent Street I pull up sharp, it’s a 90-degree turn and I’ve nearly missed it by building up too much momentum. I skid on a cracked paving stone and shout out in surprise – there’s a massive hole in the road, right in front of me, no sign or lights or anything to warn folk except a sad wee cone lying on its side about ten feet away.
“Fuck me,” I breathe, my heart in my mouth, stepping back from the edge of it and inhaling deep to calm my nerves.
That was close.
I just about brick it as I hear a voice that sounds like it’s coming from inside the hole.
“Hello?” it’s faint and weak, but it sounds like a lassie and I’m pretty sure it’s no in my head, “is there anybody there?”
I step back towards the hole, ginger, keeping my weight on my back leg in case the ground in front of me collapses under me – not gonnae happen, I’m skinny-as – and peer into the abyss.
“Oh thank fuck,” says the voice, “gonnae call an ambulance? I was running for the bus and fell – but I landed funny and I cannae walk.”
I take my phone out my pocket and switch it on, shining the blue light in to the gloom. I can just about make out her face, pale and glistening in the drizzle. I move the light down to see if I can tell what the damage is – I’ve phoned the emergency services before and you need good reasons if you want them to turn up instead of putting you on to NHS 24 – and I feel like I might be sick when I see what the problem is.
“Fuckin… fuck,” I say, because there isn’t anything else to say.
This girl has a massive spike sticking out of her pelvis.
From the way she’s lying it looks like she fell at an angle, and I’m pretty sure the metal has pierced her spine at the other side before coming right through. She must not realise, I think, it’ll be shock or something. That’s why she can’t get up, she’s probably paralysed. But you’d think she would have put her hands down there to check her legs, and then she’d feel the warmth of the blood…
“Is it bad?” she asks, and I jerk the light away, not wanting her to see.
“Er…” I dial 999 – “it’s no good.”
I pace up and down as I listen to distant ringing at the other end.
There is no answer.
Then I suddenly remember a TV show from about fifteen years ago saying 999 wasn’t the number to call from a mobile, you’re meant to try something else… What was it though? I can’t remember, there was a 2, maybe a 7… But haven’t we moved on since then? Surely these days they’ve set up some kind of divert?
There is a moan from the pit. I look back over the edge – I think she’s passed out. Small mercies, really.
Finally someone picks up the phone.
“I need help,” I tell the guy at the other end, “there’s this lassie and she needs an ambulance and I think she might die.”
“Can you tell me where you are?” the guy says, calm to the point of sounding bored. He must hear about a lot more dead women than me.
“Frederick street,” I tell him, “about half way along.”
“And where’s that?”
He must be new, I think.
“The middle of town,” I say, “near George Square.”
“What town is it?”
There is a sigh.
“Sorry sir, you’re through to the St Austell Police House. In Cornwall. Bear with me while I transfer you through.”
This time I get a woman on the other end of the phone who wants me to sit and talk to the girl whilst we wait for an ambulance.
“But she’s in a hole,” I say, wondering if I’m being stupid here. “A big one. With spikes in. What if I jump down and get impaled as well? Or what if I land funny like she did and break my leg?”
“How big is this hole?” the woman asks suspiciously.
“I dunno, six foot? Too big to climb out, anyway.”
“And there are spikes at the bottom?”
“Well there’s at least one,” I say, “I can’t really see to check.”
“I see. Sir, have you been drinking this evening?”
“No really,” I say, “I had a couple of pints at the gig, but that was it.”
I realise at this point she’s trying to work out in her mind whether this is a prank call or not. She doesn’t want the ambulance crew to get there only to find a couple of giggling teenagers retreating down the street.
“I’m not making this up,” I tell her sharply.
There is an awkward pause at her end.
“The ambulance is on its way,” she says, keeping her voice level. I’m positive she doesn’t believe me. “What I would like you to do is keep talking to your friend until they arrive, can you do that?”
“She’s not my friend,” I say, annoyed. “I don’t know who she is! Some eejit that fell in a hole.”
I regret the words as soon as they’re out there. Not exactly smooth. I hope she never woke up and heard them, that’d be mortifying.
“Sorry,” I say quickly, “I’m under a wee bit of stress here.”
“Try to stay calm.”
I nod, even though she can’t see me, and move back towards the hole. I lie on my belly in the wet and stick my head over the edge. Dirty water soaks through my clothes and I shiver at the feeling of it. I guess the lassie in the pit feels a lot worse though.
“Hi,” I whisper into the blackness, “you awake, pal? The ambulance is on its way.”
I hear a very faint moan. Hope she isn’t trying to move again, I can’t see that ending well.
“I’m Jim,” I tell her, trying to angle my head in her direction, “who are you?”
“Urrrrrggh,” she says uncomfortably.
“Great name,” I joke, “very unusual. Bet you had some interesting nicknames at school.”
“Keep talking to her,” says the ambulance woman in my ear, “they’ll be there soon.”
“So this is some night eh,” I say jovially. “I was out at a gig earlier, best I’ve seen in ages. New band fae Kilmarnock, oddly enough. You don’t think of Killy as being that musical eh.”
“Maybe when you get out of this hole I’ll send you some of their songs. It’ll make you feel better, probably. Anyway want to hear a joke? My pal tells this one about a frog that goes for a walk along a country road…”
Then I hear the sirens and blue flashing lights hove into view. I’ve never been more relieved. That frog joke is shite.
“Here!” I shout to them, getting to my feet and waving like they’re the first humans I’ve seen in years, “she’s over here!”
The crew get to work freeing the girl with a series of pullies and a stretcher. They also have torches, which helps them to establish there aren’t any other spikes at the bottom of the hole, just broken pipes.
It would still have been nasty to land on though, one of them tells me somewhat obviously as she wraps a silver heat blanket round my trembling shoulders. I was right not to leap right in there without knowing what was in store.
“Should’ve all been cordoned off,” says a police officer, who arrives just after the ambulance. “The cooncil’s going to get complaints about this like.”
I point at the one lonely traffic cone.
“Maybe someone nicked the others? Students, or something?”
“It is Halloween week, right enough… But there should have been signs, and lights, probably a barrier. This is the centre of town for god’s sake.”
An accident waiting to happen.
“You want to go to the hospital with her?” one of the paramedics asks.
“I dunno,” I say, “is that not a bit weird? I mean, I dinnae actually ken her.”
“Well, it’s up to you. You’re under no obligation.”
The polis man looks at me curiously.
“Do you not want to see if she’s alright?”
“Aye, but I thought maybe I could phone the hospital the morn.”
“Well we can’t hang about here,” the paramedic says, “we need to get her in immediately. She’s lost a lot of blood and we need to get her warmed up.”
He looks at me expectantly, but I can’t think of anything to say. He shrugs, I think sympathetically.
“It’s the Royal Infirmary if you change your mind,” and they vanish off into the dark.
“Should I go?” I ask the police man, “I don’t know if I should go.”
“Do you want to?”
“No. But I think I should.”
He smiles grimly.
“C’mon pal,” he says, “I’ll gie you a lift.”
The girl’s name turns out to be Donna, but I don’t find that out till hours later. She’s long dead by then – flat lined in the ambulance and they couldn’t bring her back.
Her parents, tearful and wan, thank me for what I did, or tried to do. They ask me if I would mind coming along to the memorial service, and I’m too shell shocked to think of a way to get out of it. I go along in a charcoal suit that doesn’t fit right and spend the whole time thinking folk are staring at me and whispering about who I am, whether I was actually responsible. Some of them think I pushed her in, maybe for a laugh, even though the police didn’t suspect any foul play.
They were clueless as to how the big metal spike got in there, though. It looked like it might once have belonged to an ornamental fence like the one my neighbours used to have, and there was no reason for it to be in there. Maybe it was part of a student prank, they decided, someone had used it as part of a fancy dress costume, like a spear. They probably realised when they came up town that they wouldn’t get in anywhere carrying it, so when they went past some road works they ditched it.
It doesn’t seem like anybody saw me on my way into town early that morning with a strangely shaped package under my arm. One guy on the bus thought I was a golfer, and I managed to blag enough for him to keep thinking it. If he’d stayed on a couple more stops it might have been another story.
None of my workmates noticed it, they were all too busy inhaling cups of strong tea and trying to decide where to start digging the road up next.
When the foreman saw me down there all he said was “we’re leaving that bit alane the day Jim, there’s more pipes needing put in further doon first.”
It was too dark for him to see what I was doing, it was a gloomy morning, and he wasn’t expecting me to be arranging a bit of garden fence amongst the rubble.
A weird and tragic accident, people concluded. The sort of unexpected death that’s freaked me out since time immemorial.
But I figure if it happens to other people, it isn’t happening to me.