A Holiday to Remember
By Paula Jayne Timms
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They are sitting around, looking at me expectantly, with the scene set, the lights turned down and the smell of the candles mingling in the air with the sweet smell of incense. The young woman closes her eyes, then tenderly, as though speaking to a scared child, she asks me to tell my story. Hesitantly I begin.
Sat at the table in the war zone that was once my kitchen, I silently pretend to read the newspaper, and listen with horror to the cacophonous blare from my children upstairs. I close my eyes and savour the bittersweet aroma of the steaming mug of coffee and fervently wish I was anywhere but here.
As I flick the pages of the paper, I notice with excitement the answer to my silent wish. ‘Kestrel Travel, coach holidays’
Picking up the phone, I quickly dial the number, before the guilt demon only known to mothers makes me change my mind. Replacing the phone, I smile with triumph as I inform my children that I am going on holiday-alone.
So here I am on an icy September morning silently looking around me.
“Oi missus, luggage”
I turn to face the source of this rather rude greeting. And notice it is the driver. As he reached to relieve me of my luggage, I had the chance to take in his appearance. Pale-faced and bleary-eyed, with hair hanging as limp and lifeless as straw. With hair combed over where he was unsuccessfully trying to cover his rather expansive bald spot.
His uniform looked as though to be washed and ironed was a fond but distant memory. As he lifted his face to mine, I gasped with shock as I noticed the distinct aroma of whisky on his breath.
Sitting in my seat, I try to take my mind off my worries about the driver by examining my fellow travellers.
In the whole I see the same look of anticipation and freedom that I myself am wearing, except for a rather harassed looking woman, complete with crying baby, screaming toddler pulling at her sleeve and pouting sullen teen with arms crossed, loudly stating that this was going to be no fun, and that all her friends were going to Ibiza for their holidays not ‘crummy’ Torquay.
My scan of my fellow travellers finished I close my eyes, sink back into the luxurious seats and relax to the gentle motion of the coach.
Awake now and just in time to see the urban landscape give way to the sight of grass and trees gently swaying in time to silent song of the wind
We are soon heading up a steep country road and the scenery although breath taking, seemed to silently mock us with the threat of danger.
Fully alert now I hear the driver muttering to himself and distinctly hear the words ‘ it’s my time to go.’
I swiftly turn to see if any one else had heard this remark. And when I again turned my attention to the road to my dismay I notice that where the road once was, now was only the expanse of space as the driver steered the coach off the road and over the cliff edge.
The heavy smoke felt like it was burning my nostrils and it stung my eyes as I tried to force them open to face the carnage that I was aware was all around me. The heavy smoke restricted my vision, and what I could see was tainted pink from the blood weaving a path from a cut on my forehead into my eyes. What I could see caused the bile to rise from the pit of my stomach as my brain registered the chaos around me.
The noise of people screaming for help and groaning in agonising pain all around me thundered in my ears. I continued my way down the coach, climbing over the bodies that lay in the aisle all looking slightly peculiar, some seemingly intact but others with various limbs either fully or partially severed from their broken bodies.
The blood covered the seats and floor in a sticky pool, hindering my progress to the safety of the door. Then I spotted the young mother I had noticed earlier and thought that at least she looked serene and peaceful now.
I finally gave way to the nausea that had been threatening me when I noticed that the young mother’s severed head was sitting in the blood stained lap of her eldest child.
Suddenly I became aware of the ever-increasing heat, as a vicious fire started to attack what remained of my fellow travellers, cooking their flesh and tainting the air around me.
I heard a tiny cry, different from the cries of pain, more a cry of fear and hunger. I turn and notice that the mother in her final selfless act for her children had shielded her baby with her own body.
Carefully I took the child, who was covered in the drying blood of her mother and staggered out of the shattered door of the bus.
Crawling outside on the damp grass trying to get as far away as possible from the destroyed coach. I can feel the heat of the flames stinging my skin. And illuminating the sky like fireworks and as I cradled the baby in by arms I can hear the distant wailing of sirens and I close my eyes.
The sound of sobbing forces me to open my eyes. Again, the smell of incense fills the air.
I see my children crying, and comforting each other, and as I gaze at them I realise something seems different about them. I lean over to embrace them and see the young woman wipe a stray tear from her own eyes.
As my arms pass through the bodies of my children, I hear the woman silently whisper a thank you. And turning to my now grown children, she says
‘In your mother's final moment of life she dragged me from that coach and saved my life’
I stood there mesmerised and disbelieving as I finally realised what she was saying.
Then as a wave of peace flowed over my body and I felt my self fade away I again heard her words of thanks, to the restless ghost, who when alive saved her life many years ago.
by Paula Timms