Call to Arms
Ten years ago
East of Maidstone, Kent
Jamie Ingram stalked across the darkened farmyard, shoved the crash helmet onto his head, and swung his leg over the motorbike.
He sat for a moment, his heart racing, anger coursing through his veins.
He realised he was grinding his teeth, and he forced his jaw to relax. He leaned forward, flexed his fingers over the handlebars, then started the engine and kicked the bike into gear.
It had been raining since four o’clock that afternoon, a steady downpour that soaked the landscape and had continued into the night. A weak full moon attempted to break through the clouds that tumbled overhead, then submitted to the next deluge.
The Kentish countryside held a starkness to it, tree branches reaching up to the pitch black sky while the promise of an early morning frost clung to the air around him.
A chink of light appeared at one of the upper windows to the farmhouse, before the silhouette of a man emerged.
Jamie remained still, glaring through the visor, his breathing ragged.
As a boy, he had loved waking up to the sound of rain as it beat upon the roof of the house. The crops were dependent on the ebb and flow of the seasons, and despite the risk of flooding, he found the noise soothing.
Tonight though, it seemed to heighten his frayed nerves instead.
Eventually, the figure retreated and the curtain at the window dropped back into place.
Jamie blinked to regain his night vision.
He turned the bike’s wheels in the mud that now coated his boots and pointed it towards the cattle grid separating the property from the lane.
The farm hadn’t been home to animals for nearly two decades, but the cattle grid served as a makeshift security measure – the rumble of tyres across its steel bars could be heard from within the farmhouse, giving its occupants ample time to see who was arriving.
He checked for oncoming traffic before accelerating into the road from habit rather than necessity. He didn’t expect to see anyone – it was the dead of night, after all, and the only people who used the road were the residents of the farmhouse and tenants from a couple of cottages further along.
The high banks and hedgerows either side of the lane sheltered him from the worst of the wind that tried to batter the motorcycle, but did little to protect him from the fresh onslaught of rain that now streaked across the fields.
On any other night, he’d have resisted the urge to be out riding.
The phone call had put paid to that.
He growled under his breath, and leaned the bike into the first bend.
A cold chill crawled over his shoulders as fear began to overcome his anger.
It wasn’t meant to be like this.
Everything was out of control.
The phone conversation had begun with accusations, and deteriorated from there.
He had paced while he spoke, gesticulating with one hand as he tried to placate the person on the other end of the call.
It was too dangerous. They had to stop.
It couldn’t continue – not anymore.
The caller was insistent; there was too much at stake, too many promises made.
He slowed the motorbike as he approached a T-junction, checked his mirrors, and took a moment to roll his shoulders and crick his neck.
Tension clutched at his limbs, and he briefly closed his eyes. A wave of nausea seized him, cramping his stomach.
He reached up and flipped the visor open, gulping in the fresh air, fighting the dizziness that clawed at the periphery of his vision.
Rain pecked at his face, and he savoured the cold water that helped to soothe his burning cheeks.
He had berated the caller for making the promises in the first place. That hadn’t been the arrangement.
They had always known they were on borrowed time, and he wasn’t prepared to take the risk.
Not now. He’d already lost so much.
He took a deep breath, and tried to refocus, clenching his gloved hands to try and wring the tension from them. He reached up and replaced the visor, the Perspex muting the soft undertones of damp earth and ozone, cocooning him from reality.
There was only one person he could speak to who would know what to do.
He wrapped his fingers around the handlebars once more.
He swivelled his head to check for oncoming traffic, and wasn’t surprised when the lane stayed deserted.
Only a fool would be out on a night like this.
Surface water glistened in the light from the headlamp, and he took advantage of the fact that he was the only one on the road and swerved between the deep puddles, using the width of the lane to manoeuvre.
His heart raced as if he’d been running, and he wondered if he had made the right choice. There was no turning back now – when he had made the decision, it had been an automatic knee-jerk reaction. He had been pushed too far, too fast.
What he had first viewed as a bit of a laugh and then a challenge had instead turned into something he had no control over. There were too many others involved now.
The road dipped and curved as the terrain levelled out. A familiar sign glowed in the headlight beam to his left, and he began to slow the machine using the gears rather than risk applying the brakes too hard.
The main road was deserted, and as he approached the junction a flash of movement between the trees beyond his position caught his eye. A moment later, a Eurostar train flashed by, its pantograph sending bright bolts of electricity through the air as it powered its way towards the coast and onwards to Paris.
A dull sensation clawed at Jamie’s chest.
He would give anything to be out of the country again right now.
Resigned, he turned onto the A20 and steered the bike in the direction of Maidstone.
As the gradient began to rise, he lined up to take the corner; it was easy – he’d been riding the route since he had left school and got his licence. His body and the machine moved as one, leaning into the curve as he accelerated to control the turn.
His brain registered the dark shape that loomed in front of him a fraction too late.
Desperate, he pushed the left-hand handlebar away from him in an attempt to swerve, his gut twisting as he realised his mistake.
He cried out, his voice muffled within the confines of the helmet as the shape collided with him.
The handlebars were torn from his grip, and then he was airborne, limp as a rag doll and unable to comprehend what had gone wrong.
The night sky spiralled above him and in the distance, he heard the sickening scrape of metal as his motorbike skidded along the road to a halt.
He screamed as his knees found the asphalt first, the crack of bones inevitable when his body tumbled to the ground.
A moment later, the back of his helmet smacked against the unforgiving hard surface, and darkness claimed him.
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