The End Of The Road

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PROLOGUE
There was only road before him, nothing more, nothing less. The road was everything. The road was dark yet light, funny yet sad, great yet ordinary. For most the road was worth it and to this Tom was no exception, but like all good things... It couldn’t last forever.
THE END OF THE ROAD
A thin white veil of mist surrounded Tom. Where was he? How had he gotten here? He didn’t know. Rubbing his eyes, he gazed around curiously. All he could remember was the argument. He’d said things. Things he hadn’t meant. He had to find her, apologise, and tell her. Tell her it was all just a mistake and that, that he loved her. She was everything... all he had. She was him, without her, he was nothing, without her, life wasn’t worth living. Walking slowly forwards Tom kicked a can along the pavement, impatience and longing building up in his chest like a time bomb getting ready to explode.
The suffocating haze which hung around him bore in, hiding the huge, skeletal buildings which scrutinised his every step. Tendrils of pallid vapour clinging to his clothes, Tom squinted into the grey abyss before him. There was something, what was it? Tom brushed at the haze around him, was it... light? Quickening his pace, his pulse began to accelerate, finding himself sprinting towards the glow, Tom rummaged through his pockets. Producing a packet of Marlboros and a lighter, he frantically flicked at the lighter, trying to enhance his eyesight.
What was it? Something about the dim glow seemed wrong. It didn’t wasn’t getting any clearer as he got nearer to it. Instead it stayed the same like in a dream where you’re running through mud.
Suddenly, colliding with something solid, Tom was sent sprawling to the ground. He groaned and begrudgingly got to his feet. Cradling his elbow in pain, Tom reached out, feeling the smooth surface which had thrown him to the concrete. Navigating along the grubby window, he found himself face to face with the first sign of life he’d seen all night: “Pub.”
He lit a cigarette and stared at the luminous, golden sign reading “THE END OF THE ROAD.” Tom looked around and frowned. He was on a road? If so, where did it end? He walked forwards, barely two steps when his feet slipped and he almost fell off the edge of what seemed to be, well... nothing. Feeling a few granules of concrete crumble from the roadside, and roll down and off what appeared to be a cliff of some sort, Tom gasped. It was a sheer drop into... nothingness. The ever thickening mist which shrouded it in a cloak of white, seemed to stretch on forever, carrying on endlessly down through into the void.
Well he wasn’t in Keswick anymore, Tom thought slowly. So, where was he? He needed to find Kate and make amends. He couldn’t lose her. He saw that even more clearly now that they were separated. He couldn’t remember the last time she wasn’t close, the last time she wasn’t in his arms and what he’d give. What he’d give to hold her now. It was killing him, burning him up from the inside. He needed her just to function properly, he felt like without her, he was going crazy.
Taking a long drag from the cigarette in his hand, Tom turned from the crumbling edge, head hanging from his neck. He could feel tears brimming in his eyes, the damp, the mist, the cold, the longing to be with her, it was all just too much. He started to walk away when suddenly an ocean of blinding light flooded his vision and the loud blare of a car horn shattered his armour of solitude. Startled like a rabbit in the headlights, Tom could only stand petrified as he felt the impact of metal against his body and was thrown like a ragdoll from the edge.
Limbs flailing, a sense of ecstasy washed over Tom’s body. How long had he been falling? Seconds? Minutes? Hours? Tom had no idea, his only landmark, the diaphanous mist which seemed to follow him down into the gray space below. The interminable bleakness which surrounded him seemed almost deafening in its loneliness. A cry for help lost in the wind of seclusion. This was the stuff of stories: Star Wars, Lord Of The Rings. Not life. His mind swirling, Tom felt as if consciousness was starting to escape his grasp. His head lolled back, a smile of wonderment spreading across his face.His eyelids were just drooping when... BANG! Tom groaned as he hit the ground. His landing seemed almost soft given the distance he’d fallen, but what did that matter? He was alive!
Blinking groggily, Tom stood up. He wobbled light headedly onwards and fell through the pub’s door, practically collapsing into the first seat available. Closing his eyes, he sighed heavily. What the h*** had just happened? And how on earth had he ended up here? That drop should have killed him. And even if by some miracle he had managed to survive it unscathed, then it definitely wasn’t possible that he had ended up in the same place as where he had started. “THE END OF THE ROAD” pub.
“Alright there mate, what’ll it be?” A deep voice boomed. Tom opened his eyes and looked over to the bar, his gaze met by that of the chubby, little bartender.
“Urrm, pint of lager,” Tom answered dazedly, quickly checking his surroundings.
Almost two hours later, Tom sat uncomfortably in the small, stuffy room, every now and again, wisps of stale smoke drifting his way. Occasional bouts of raucous laughter or outraged rebellion resounded around the room, as the old, small TV perched in the corner, cast out the dim, grainy image of a local football match. Nobody else had entered the pub in the time Tom had been there and he looked vacantly at the empty bar, sipping at the seventh flat beer which sat before him. What was left? He pondered, what was the point? She had left him, the money was gone. Now what did he have? The clothes he was wearing were all, he thought glumly. B****. Tom slammed the pint glass against the table and signalled to the bartender to pour him another. “Don’t you think you’ve had enough mate?” He asked, “I hope you ain’t driving.” Tom stood up unsteadily and worked his way over to the bar.
“Tell you what, give me one more, an’ I’ll go?” he slurred. The bartender shrugged his shoulders and started to pull another beer.
Leaning against the bar, Tom’s attention was suddenly drawn to the vibrant flashing lights and sirens on the other side of the grubby window. “Bloody racers!” The bartender growled, handing Tom the beer. “Come down here every week. Of course none of ‘em see the drop comin’ and just carry on straight over it. Awful waste if you ask me.” He said eyeing Tom carefully. “You’re not from round here are you?” he asked. Tom shook his head slowly, just as a loud whoop erupted from the corner of the room and the bartender rushed to the TV cheering along with the other customers.
Tom sat down, his thoughts whirring. He drank his pint quickly and soon found himself looking at the cracked wall in front of him. This pub could really do with refurbishing he thought.
“So what happened to you?” A voice asked from behind him. Tom wheeled around in surprise, finding himself next to a pretty young woman, probably in her thirties.
“Uh, what?” Tom asked uncertainly.
“Oh, so you’re the new one...” She smiled. “Ahh makes sense, nobody new’s come in for ages. ‘Bout time really.”
“Sorry?” Tom asked “what are you talking about?” The woman just laughed patronisingly.
“I’m Martha, Martha Jones.”
“Tom.”
“Well Tom, why don’t you have a look around?” Tom gave Martha a strange look and stood up curiously, his drunkenness subsiding into intrigue. He slowly walked over to a door on the other side of the room, and giving Martha an inquisitive look, stepped inside. A pungent chemical smell immediately greeted him as he entered the cold back room. He groped along the wall, seeking a light switch and gasped as he realised he was in a little dark room. Tom looked about slowly, his eyes adjusting to the dim light. Around him lay countless photographs and old, dry newspaper cuttings which had obviously been back here for years. Tom turned as if to leave when one cutting caught his attention. On it was a small picture of a young man who strongly resembled the bartender. The headline read,
PUB OWNER DIES IN TRAGIC CAR ACCIDENT.
Strange, Tom thought. At least this explained why the bartender hated the road so much. It must have claimed his father or uncle. The article was dated 1965, almost 35 years ago. Tom looked around, studying the other reports. All of them seemed to be stories of the people who had died on the road outside. Tom stood to leave, a shiver running down his spine. Something was very wrong. Turning, he found his exit barred by Martha who stood there smiling. “Don’t be afraid... read them.” Tom scowled, but did as she said. The uneasy feeling still lingered in his gut. Tom turned around, noticing another- newer article. He stopped dead, staring at a small black and white picture of a young pretty girl in her thirties. The caption beneath read,
Martha Jones, 34 years old, most recent victim of killer road.
Tom leapt up and backed slowly away from Martha. “Ha ha ha,” he laughed awkwardly, “really funny, scare the new guy!” He chuckled fearfully, the solid wall pressing against his back. Martha progressed slowly towards him. Beads of sweat accumulating around his hairline, Tom felt a sense of nausea begin to rise from the pit of his stomach. With nowhere to run, Tom sprinted back into the main room and straight to the door. He yanked and yanked at it, but it was no use, it was locked. Martha walked menacingly towards him.
“Don’t worry Tom, we’re not going to hurt you,” she cooed.
“But this isn’t possible!” Tom exclaimed in alarm.
Without saying a word, Martha nodded to the bartender, pointing at the TV. The bartender switched the channel and on came the news. “What on earth?” Tom mimed, instantly recognising his sobbing wife on the screen. “What’s she doing on TV?”
“I’m sorry Tom.” Martha replied. Suddenly the image was replaced by the familiar face of Shirley Conwell, the channel four news presenter. Tom’s heart skipped a beat and he felt as if his lungs were about to implode. He was vaguely aware of Martha talking to him, but all he could see was the red speech ribbon underneath the news picture reading,
Killer road claims local lawyer- Thomas Beck, tragedy for family.
“Wha-what?” Tom asked disbelievingly, pointing at the TV screen accusingly. “No, there has to be a mistake!” He shouted, sprinting over to the window. He pounded on it frantically, screaming at the top of his voice to the policemen and news team who were gathering outside. “No! You’ve got it wrong! I’m here! I’m here!”
Martha walked towards him slowly. “It’s no use Tom, they can’t hear or see you. To them, you’re dead,” Tom whirled around, tears streaming down his face.
“No,” he sobbed, “no, bu- but, I don’t want to die. I’m not ready...” He cried, salty tears rolling onto his tongue.
“I know, I know,” Martha replied kindly, hugging him close to her body. “But sooner or later, we all die Tom; it’s nothing to be scared of. And right now, you have a very important decision to make,” Tom looked up tearfully.
“What? What decision?”
“Where you will go.” Martha replied, “It’s up to you, you could just stay here like me, but I guess you’d rather move on. I mean the choice is yours, you’ll always have a home here, but for most, this is simply a checkpoint. You know, a place to decide and recuperate, You just stay here for as long as you like, but when you’re ready, I’ll show you the doors.” Martha smiled comfortingly.
Tom, still snivelling wiped his eyes slowly, his head spinning. This just didn’t make sense. He was an atheist. According to him, there was no heaven, there was no h***, so this was... impossible. “Where are they?” Asked Tom, “these doors.”
Martha smiled approvingly. She took him by the hand and led him over to the other side of the room. “It’s your choice Tom, stay here. Or pick a door.”
Tom wiped his red eyes and looked solemnly at the mediocre, ordinary looking doors before him. “What is the difference?” Tom asked, staring forwards in a beleaguered manner.
“I think you already know the answer to that question.” Martha replied, giving him a reassuring, yet grave look. “You don’t have to go,” she said, but Tom shook his head and pointed at the right hand door.
“That one, that’s the one I’m supposed to choose,” he said, following his instincts. Martha smiled, and patted him on the back.
“Good choice,” she ensured.
Watching Martha step back a few paces, Tom jumped as without warning, the door swung open, nothing but shadow behind it. Fear welling up inside his gut, Tom waved goodbye. He slowly stepped inside, hearing the heavy door slam shut behind him.
EPILOGUE
Martha watched silently as Tom disappeared into the shadows, the door slamming behind him. She smiled wickedly at the bartender, “What do you reckon, 10 seconds before they get him?”
“You’re on,” the bartender growled.
Raising her gaze back to the door, Martha threw back her head in laughter as she heard the frantic pounding on the thick oak door. Savouring Toms agonising screams, Martha cackled. There was one last whimper of pain and all was silence.
“You owe me a drink,” Martha said, loitering seductively back to the bar.





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