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The Replacement Phenomenon

By willthurston All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller

Blurb

If someone had told Jake Hingham two weeks ago that time travel was real he would have laughed in their face. If they had then told him that he’d be pointing a gun at a policeman to save hundreds of lives, he would have had them committed. Yet, there he stands in a shoot-out, and with the pull of a trigger he can change his destiny after over a week of being hunted, strangled, shot at, imprisoned and probably even killed. It all sounds crazy to Jake, but his life was turned upside-down when he wished for the chance to save his dead family a week and a half in the future. You probably wouldn't believe his story. He wouldn't blame you. If he hadn’t lived through it then he would probably not believe it. That doesn’t change the fact that he's standing there with a fifty-fifty chance of surviving for another minute. One shot, one chance. It’s time for Jake's moment of truth.

Chapter 1 - Friday 30 January

CHAPTER 1

Friday 30th January


Despite Jake Hingham hearing the gunshots that had killed his family, and his arriving at the scene within seconds, one scene was missing from his memory. He had not witnessed the demise of his wife and his two sons just a few hours earlier. His mind was working fiercely, attempting to fill in the blanks in his memory. He imagined the killers exiting the car and raising various sizes of guns, saying various things or saying nothing. He didn’t know enough to imagine the incident but could not prevent himself from doing so.

He would do anything to numb his mind into letting go of the tragedy he had just faced. He had turned to alcohol to provide a welcome distraction, but had long since proven to himself that half a bottle of wine was affecting nothing but his balance.

Jake used the plain looking black balcony railing to halt his fall as he stumbled towards an aerial view the crime scene that had previously been his front garden. The combination of alcohol running through his veins as well as attire consisting of a dressing gown and old blue slippers, in hindsight did not make for good grip on a stone tiled floor, especially in times of inclement weather. He didn't care that the evening's weather was dreadful and that the rain was throwing down like there would be no tomorrow. The only things in his life that he did care about were now gone, so he had no desire to face tomorrow anyway.

As much as he hated to admit it, within the space of a few seconds his precious family had become as much a part of history as his ancestors. He couldn't handle that. As far as he was concerned there was nothing left. No reason for him to carry on with his day-to-day life without his family beside him.

Perhaps the hardest thing to which Jake needed to come to terms was how close he had been to intervening. Not only had he been seconds away from saving his family from their grim fate earlier that day, but he was the first to witness the awful scene directly below where he now stood.

On previous occasions he'd seen his house as he rounded the last bend in the road, and counted himself as being lucky to be living where he lived. His house was a modern take on an Art Deco style. The white rendered exterior made the detached house look somewhat like a giant, elongated sugar cube with prominent rounded corners and the flat roof. White windows had recently been fitted, replacing poorly constructed dark wooden frames which had been in place previously. The balcony, on which Jake currently stood, protruded from the front of the house overhanging the front door and driveway to the right.

The interior was not so true to a lavish Art Deco style. It clearly showed plenty of signs of a house built in the seventies with brown bricks that were once clean and considered decorative forming a fireplace in the lounge, and an open wooden staircase leading to the first floor. The house looked refreshed and clean, exactly the kind of property estate agents loved to sell. Jake had previously held no desires to sell the property until tonight. Rather than being his family home with fond memories attached, it was now just a building attached to a crime scene.

With an almost empty bottle of cheap white wine gripped firmly in his hand, but swinging loosely as an extension to his arm, he slurred, “If I'm lucky those heartless maniacs will come and finish the family off.”

He couldn’t see why anyone would kill his wife and two children in such a quick, brutal manner but leave him untouched. What had they done? Why not take him and leave his wife and children alone? They were just a small family from the quiet town of Darlington, County Durham. What could they possibly have done to hurt or offend anyone? They didn't go looking for trouble. They had been a normal, quiet family, doing normal things together. To his knowledge his wife had never been involved in drugs or blackmail or any unscrupulous activity of any kind, and their kids were just kids.

He turned and walked towards the white UPVC bi-folding doors that opened onto the platform on which he now stood. When fully opened the doors created what was essentially a large gaping hole in the front of their house for the length of the balcony. On this occasion, owing to the weather and his current lack of enthusiasm for anything, only the door to the far left was open, leaving the rest of the glass doors in place. As he saw the reflection of his own distraught face stare back at him through the double glazing, he spun around, arms arcing out from his side, and decided he would yell at the grimly dark sky some more.

He didn't know if he was talking to anyone or anything up there. The existence of some kind of God or all-knowing force seemed illogical to him, an opinion being shared by more and more people he knew. He didn't expect an answer to his night time rant, nor did he really want one. He just needed to shout more of what was on his mind into the night sky, even if nothing could answer back or even feign interest.

“Why?” he asked the midnight blackness. “Why my family? Why now?

The sky managed to grow even darker than it had been seconds earlier; something he hadn't really thought was possible. It was obvious to him that a storm was about to hit. A bright flash was followed almost instantly by a loud rumble of thunder, meaning the lightning struck not too far from where Jake was standing. The storm was beginning and he thought it might be best to continue his protests against such an angry sky from the relative safety of the warm, dry side of his double-glazed doors.

As Jake stumbled across the threshold of the door watching the storm through the glass, he still marvelled at the strange beauty he always found in lightning. Someone had once explained to him the science behind such storms, and how they relieved tension, headaches, and other symptoms of stress. He found that remarkable. Electrical storms neutralized the ions in the air and helped to calm everything through a violent display of light and sound that could not be equalled by any mere mortal.

Whatever the effects of the weather, it would take a lot more than an electrical storm to restore calm to Jake's life.

Whilst only for a brief few moments, Jake was glad to have something else to think about as he stared out at what he could see of the town's basic skyline. His mind had been focused on the events of the past few hours, and no doubt would be for the rest of his life. Any distraction would be most welcome over the coming days, weeks, and months. Any thought to keep his mind from returning to that image that had greeted him as he arrived home, whatever that thought might be, would consciously be given priority on the stage of his mind.

He could hear “Drinking Again”, one of the final tracks of a Frank Sinatra album, playing on the mini silver coloured stereo system in his bedroom. The lines “I'm havin' a few and wishin' that you were here” and “Bein' a fool just hopin' that you'll appear” held more meaning to him than they had done previously, and he was sure he did not want to listen to any more.

He walked over to the stereo unit without saying a word, picked it up and yanked it as hard as he could away from its current position with all the fury of a drunk and angry man, pulling it away from the wall and sending its two connected speakers hurtling to the floor. He opened the left hand door leading to the balcony and tossed out the stereo, hearing it smash on the ground beneath. He certainly would not be hearing those depressing lyrics again any time soon. He had probably just contaminated the crime scene below, but he didn’t care. According to the police earlier that evening, there was nothing more to be learned from the crime scene anyway.

Despite his efforts to think and do anything else, the events of that day played on his mind over and over again. He was now certain to fruitlessly replay key moments over and over, wishing with all his heart and mind that he could step into his memories and change everything, or even something. He looked up at the clock. 23:47. Only thirteen minutes remained of the worst day of his life. He decided he had to have one last good shout at the already violently raging thunderous sky, after which he'd call it a day.

Jake remembered vividly the day that was now ebbing out like old coals on a camp fire. He could see every moment in perfect clarity in his mind as if being displayed in high definition crystal clarity on a giant screen directly in front of him. He did not even have to close his eyes to picture any of it. The first scene was right in front of him as he stood looking through the doorway into his bedroom.

That same large digital clock with its bland LCD display had been his first sight of the day. It was almost always the first thing he would see every day, and the last thing he would see every night. From there, every event of the day rushed to his mind, and he could do nothing to prevent the flood of memories and their accompanying regrets.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~


The first time he looked at the clock it read 07:30. He dreaded seeing those digits appear. It meant he had another day of work ahead of him. Another day of drudgery and boredom in the name of employment lay before him, but at least it was the end of the working week.

On the weekends, in his mind there was only one 7:30 in a day, and it was much later. That time was usually accompanied by the family gathering around the television set to watch their favourite show of the moment. Most were little more than glorified talent contests, the like of which he had seen countless times. Still, Saturdays were usually a break from the normal way of things in his daily life. He needed the weekends with his family to remind himself of why he put up with the job he had. It was all to provide for his family.

Jake had a routine he had been following every weekday for almost as long as he could remember. Today seemed no different from any other, and there seemed to be no reason for departing from the carefully crafted order of things.

He would wake up with the sound of an alarm clock, look at the big clock on the wall, then his eyes would move to the right where he would see his calendar, set to the new day during the previous evening, and then he would turn over in bed and look at his beautiful wife. They had been married for nine years. It would be ten in just a few weeks.

This day was slightly different from others in the most minor of ways to begin with. There was no reason that this simple change could be considered a warning sign for the day ahead. On this Friday morning as he turned over, his wife was not there. It wasn't long before his wife returned, inexplicably climbed back into bed, and then got up and went about the usual daily routine. As she got back into bed and glanced over at Jake with a brief smile crossing her face, Jake had a good look at her and realised how lucky he was. He had a tendency to forget that from time to time, as he suspected most people did.

Amy was one of the most naturally beautiful women he had ever seen. At five and a half feet tall she was four inches shorter than Jake. She had a naturally pale complexion and dark brown hair the shade of mahogany. She had a snub nose and blue eyes and the cutest smile he'd ever seen on anyone. Even first thing in the morning she was stunning to look at. Make up added something when occasion required, but she rarely wore any. She didn't ever need to in his opinion. Amy of course disagreed, but he wasn't sure if this was out of humility or a reduced sense of self-worth.

In addition to her attractive features, Amy had some less than angelic qualities that surfaced every once in a while. Her temper was short and explosive when pushed to its limit. Luckily, it was extremely rare that anything happened that revealed this temper. Most of the world saw the cute and kind Amy, and to be fair she was that person for ninety nine per cent of the time. He lost his temper far more than she did, and had a list of failings as long as his arm. He was still delighted to be married to her after almost ten years, especially as she'd ignored most of his failings during that time.

The next few actions of the day were as they might be for anyone else. He would shower in the en-suite bathroom and get dressed in his usual workday suit. When dressed for the day he would make his way downstairs to the kitchen to eat breakfast with his family. The content of his breakfast varied from day to day. The same cereal every day would lead to more boredom than Jake could stand. On this particular Friday he enjoyed raspberry jam on toast. Following breakfast he would walk out of the front door to work, climbing into his new car. He would slouch into the comfortable cream leather seats in his silver Mercedes and drive the two miles or so to the office.

It was an almost perfectly straight drive, east on Yarm Road to work. Sadly, traffic meant the journey couldn't be done in four or five minutes. It was just over half an hour to walk the same route, but he didn't earn that money and have a nice car so he could walk into work and leave a fancy car sitting dormant on his driveway. Besides, the modern office block was located just outside of Darlington, in a relatively new development called Morton Park. A lot of the newer business parks didn’t seem to have been built for pedestrians. People wishing to travel in or out of the area would need to do so using their own, or local public transport.

There was little that could be considered pleasurable about the job which Jake had endured for the past three years. He was overqualified and underpaid for the tasks he did. Still, he figured that everyone else in almost every other place in the world had the same complaint every day, so switching jobs or careers would not benefit him much, if at all. He was at least glad to be behind a desk and have his own office.

He did not see why people made a fuss about working outdoors. He had undertaken various outdoor tasks including gardening and house painting. Such tasks did nothing to persuade Jake that outdoor work could be enjoyable. The prospect of working in all weathers had never appealed to Jake. A comfortable office was much more to his liking. Besides, he thought, the great British weather should be enough to put any sane person off even entertaining the notion of outdoor employment.

Jake sat at his expensive looking desk and looked around his office, complete with dull pictures on green pastel shade walls. The company for which he worked was large, but small minded. It was nationwide, yet people still viewed it as being a small company that would soon fizzle out as other similar ones had done previously. Whilst they had many competitors, they were the biggest in their line of business in Europe.

The organisation was called Nannotek. Unfortunately, the good spelling of the word had been registered with another company, but they were unwilling to let go of the name. They produced and sold electrical equipment from their own chain of stores up and down the country.

The company employed upwards of three thousand people with their main headquarters in Darlington and other smaller offices at seemingly random locations throughout Europe. Jake figured their policy of avoiding capital cities and ports for the location of their premises was purely a consequence of a company keeping costs as low as possible.

Nannotek had dealt with many obstacles before, but new troubles were arising. Soaring fuel costs meant that transporting their products was becoming prohibitively expensive. They received record numbers of complaints and order cancellations every day. Jake knew that life in his job would not be easy until small problems were dealt with by people who had a lot more influence than he had.

He worked in Customer Services, and was often responsible for dealing with annoyed people wondering where their washing machine, freezer or computer had got to. Many cancelled their orders purely because of the time frame involved in the delivery of their chosen product. Customers often considered the failure of prompt delivery to be the breaking of a promise made to them. Being such a big retailer, deliveries sometimes took days or weeks longer to complete than the time indicated when the order was placed.

This frustrated Jake too, but he didn't ever let the customers know that. He worked in Customer Service, and it was his job to reassure customers that he was doing everything possible to speed up their orders, even though he had no influence whatsoever over such matters. He had complained to his superiors about the company’s casual attitude towards their customers, but nothing was ever done to improve the quality of service. Jake felt that no-one in management cared enough about their customers or ever really listened to him, no matter how many times he voiced the same concerns.

When orders were cancelled, as they sometimes were, he felt that the customers were blaming him personally for the company’s poor service. None of it was his fault, but it didn’t make him feel any better. Some customers were abusive or offensive when they called, and Jake hated having to meekly put up with being cursed at and called various rude names. Nobody should have to be subjected to such abuse on an almost daily basis. Occasionally, when he was feeling particularly vindictive, he would hold off on the withdrawal of the finance agreement and make the customer sweat a little before finally closing accounts and informing their bank not to take money from the accounts of disgruntled former customers. Jake rarely felt in such a harsh mood, but strangely enjoyed exposing the more sinister part of his personality every now and then.

Today was going to be another difficult day for Jake. So far, nothing unusual had happened. January 30th was just like any other day. It was a Friday, which was something he always enjoyed realising. Two full days away from the annoyance of these people would be a blessed relief. He could enjoy two full days of quiet and contentment and solitude with his family.

Several hours passed with the usual string of complaints and problems. There was nothing unusual, but still enough to provide the daily headache that Jake was growing tired of. He started to think about a career change again. Okay, so maybe he wouldn't find a job that he really enjoyed, but he must be able to find one he hated a little bit less.

Now would probably be a good time to start looking for a new position, although he was aware that a lot of other people would also be considering a change of career just a few weeks into a new year.

They were less than a couple of weeks past the most depressing day of the year, which was statistically proven as being the third Monday in January. Apparently, according to some scientific study or other, that was when the euphoria of the Christmas season wore off and people realised they were in huge debt and hated their jobs. Despite the increase in numbers of those searching for work, Jake knew he could find something more suitable.

Just as Jake was starting to drift off into his thoughts again and imagine other job possibilities, the phone rang. He answered with the usual insincere monologue involving his forename, position, and the typical “How can I help you today?”

“I have a complaint to make.”

Jake recognised the voice. “I hardly see my husband much these days because he's always dealing with petty problems.” His wife, Amy had a habit of calling and making some semi-amusing comment that would make it obvious who she was.

“Well, I’m afraid there's not much I can do about that, Madam. I only deal with the serious problems,” he said in return. “Hi gorgeous, what can I do for you?” This time his question was much more sincere.

“Do you realise you spend more hours per week with people that hate your company than you do with me?”

Jake picked up on her point. He spent plenty of time around the family, but not too much time with just her. Someone else always seemed to be there, usually one of their two children. Such was life for a couple with two kids. Time to themselves was pretty much a thing of the past.

“So you think I've worked so hard recently that I deserve some time off?” After almost ten years, Jake was now at the point where he could recognise by the tone of her voice when his wife was smiling on the other end of the line.

“That's exactly what I'm saying,” she replied. “We could both do with some time alone.”

“We have a big enough house,” Jake said innocently. “If we sit at opposite ends it would seem like we're alone.”

“You know I mean. Alone time together, not alone time.”

He decided he would finish early today and make time for an evening out. Even though they'd been married for a few years, they still wanted to set aside one or two nights a month for dates, like a courting couple. They were about due for another one.

“I'll be home by four. We could get our impromptu free baby-sitter to take the kids for the evening.”

“Your sister? Shouldn't be a problem. She always seems to be willing to help out where she can,” Amy said.

“Absolutely. It's not like she'll have much else to do.”

“That's harsh. You assume she won't have a date on a Friday night?”

“It's a reasonable assumption to make. She hasn't had a proper relationship for a good few months. It's like she lives the life of a parent vicariously. Almost every time we see her in public she's got the child of someone or other nearby or in her arms.”

The conversation ended with the usual vocalisation of affection from Amy and an uncomfortable reciprocation by Jake. With that, Jake hung up the phone. He figured it would be better for him to sneak out at ten minutes to four than to try and tell anyone he was going beforehand. He often lived by one phrase in the business world - It's easier to get forgiveness than it is to get permission. He didn't know who had said it, but in his mind they were worthy of some sort of important accolade or title. No truer words had ever been spoken in business, especially when it came to Nannotek.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Jake glanced up at the large clock in the main hall. It was rather an old clock. Jake admired antiquated things, yet with the frustration rapidly building inside him, he would happily break anything there, old or new, if it could distract everyone long enough so that he could leave. He watched the hands as they swiftly rushed around the face of the mahogany timepiece, like the blades of a helicopter high on the wall. Through the rest of the day he watched the second hand of the clock in his office as it dragged itself unwillingly from one point of the clock face to another. Time went so slowly during his time working, so why did it suddenly speed up when he was trying in vain to get away from the place?

Jake was mentally kicking himself when he thought of how he'd taken his usual exit route from the building. At this time of day there was always someone in that area, but they were rarely worth the effort to talk to. This time, Frank, the head of the finance department, had collared him, obviously keen to avoid work for the last hour or so of the working week by just wandering the corridors with a couple of pieces of paper in his hand.

Jake was too polite a person to just walk on past a colleague and completely ignore him. Somehow he thought it was less rude to stand there and act interested, when in fact he was ignoring him and watching the seconds tick away behind his overweight friend. Several minutes into the conversation he could honestly not repeat back a word that Frank was saying. All he was doing was smiling and nodding at seemingly appropriate moments.

Over the course of his life, and partly due to the long stories inflicted on him by grandparents, Jake had developed the ability to look completely absorbed and interested in what someone was telling him, whilst at the time completely switching off somewhere inside his mind. He knew this in itself was not too impressive. He saw others do it all the time. What set him apart was the fact that he always managed to say the right thing at the right time, and sincerely enough that the conversation would not result in the other party saying, “Are you listening to me?”

He knew Frank would be saying something about the change in the company pay structure, but he didn't care. Such changes usually meant the people at the bottom of the chain had a minimal increase in salary, while the so-called fat cats at the top would take a large slice of the increase.

Jake started to look for the slightest pause in conversation. Several seconds ticked by as quickly as before but still no pause for breath. It was as if this guy had developed the technique of breathing in through his nose while speaking with his mouth, thus allowing him to carry on talking without the inconvenience of stopping briefly to breathe in.

More seconds passed. The time was a quarter past four. He had been talked to for about twenty minutes. If he'd have known beforehand, he could have brought a chair to sit on, or concealed a pair of minuscule headphones and a portable mp3 player about himself and listened to his favourite songs on the device whilst feigning interest in what his colleague was telling him.

There was a sudden pause as Frank exhausted another subject within the vast encyclopaedic area that was accounting. Jake took his opportunity and butted in.

“Well, it was nice talking to you Frank, but I have somewhere else I need to be.” It was probably possible to get out of this situation without lying, but he'd had enough. He was willing to do anything to end this. “My wife needs me home a little earlier today. One of the kids isn't doing so well.” He thought he'd better stop talking and walk away before Frank saw through his lies.

They shook hands and Frank wished him a good weekend. Jake was finally able to walk out of the door and taste of the freedom in the air he felt whenever he finished work that little bit earlier.

He hurriedly put his briefcase in the back and climbed into the car. The engine started, and within minutes, he would be home to his darling wife and wonderful children.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Amy looked out of the living room window for probably the hundredth time in the last five minutes. As she looked out at the empty road and driveway, she could see that daylight was fading quickly. She was not concerned as she knew exactly what would have happened to Jake. One of the windbags Jake worked with was talking his ear off again. She told her precious husband that he just needed to be stern with them. When he was leaving, he needed to tell them he was leaving. He needed to walk away and never look back, instead of letting people stop him from doing anything he wanted or needed to do.

If he kept lying down and letting people talk all over him, he would never grow any kind of a backbone. He was too patient for his own good. She tried to tell herself that his patience got to her, but she loved him for it really. He was so sweet and kind that they hadn't ever had a fight in nearly ten years of marriage. That was no small achievement these days.

Some couples seemed to be at each other's throats all the time, but Amy had no idea how those people could stand to be in such a relationship. In her mind, a person’s husband or wife should be someone in whom they can confide and feel comfortable with all the time. A spouse needed to be a best friend too. Anything less was not really worth the aggravation if fighting was a part of daily life.

She was beginning to look at only two things around the house as she continued to wait, and each for only a couple of seconds. First, she would look out of the window at the driveway, and then she would look to her left at the clock above the doorway leading to the dining room. As her gaze was shared between these two scenes, her eyes passed straight over the front door in between.

Almost twenty minutes late. It was not normal for Jake to be that polite when collared before leaving work. Surely he would pull into the driveway at any minute. Just as she thought that, she noticed a familiar looking silver coloured car drive around the corner and slow down on its approach to the red brick paved driveway.

She turned around to notify the children.

“Kids, your father's home.” Within seconds a rumbling was heard that signalled the two small boys charging down the stairs from their bedrooms to greet their father.

Although it seemed to be the cheesy, typical movie-style greeting for a father returning home from work, Amy enjoyed it. She would open the front door, the kids would bolt out and run to the car to greet Jake as he stepped out and walked towards the house. She always stood just beyond the covered porch area and watched him greet their two sons, before he walked towards the door and gave her a kiss on his way through the doorway. Whatever the weather, the same scene always followed that silver Mercedes pulling into the driveway. The only variable was the closing of the front door behind her during the winter months. Jake was forever pointing out the expense and ineffectiveness of heating the great outdoors.

As she opened the door, the two little boys, aged six and eight, ran past her with enough force to knock over a medium sized animal, should any such collision ever occur. They reached the car and paused. In the dimming light and over the bright car headlights she struggled to see who was in the car. It didn't look like Jake. Her eyes quickly lowered to the number plate. It was different. This wasn't their car. She'd never seen it before.

Amy called out to the boys, trying her best to not sound concerned. “Kids, get back in the house. That's not your father.”

They didn't move. “Jason, James, get back in the house this very minute.” She always called them by name, starting with the oldest, when she wanted to get through to them. The next stage was embarrassing them by calling out their full names, followed by an order. They didn't need the final stage this time. They turned around and started walking slowly back to the house.

“Who is it, Mum?” asked Jason.

“What do they want?” added James.

She didn't know. It wasn't anyone they had ever seen before. Perhaps it was a new work colleague or a friend to whom she had never been introduced.

A tall, well-built man in a dark grey suit and light blue tie opened the driver side door and stepped out of the car. Another man, dressed the same but with a red tie, stepped out of the passenger side. “Amy?” the first man said, posing it as a question. Before any response could be given, he added to the question and asked again. “Mrs Amy Hingham?”

She took an instinctive step forward. “Yes… and who are you?” she replied, with a question of her own.

The two men were dressed smartly and had a certain presence of authority about them. She thought they might be official authorities of some kind. They made no attempt to show any kind of credentials or identification.

What seemed like a huge amount of time was just an uncomfortable several seconds. The two men looked at each other, nodded slightly, and without warning pulled guns from their jackets and opened fire on Amy and her sons. The first man struck Amy with the first shot, and the second.

The noise of gunfire was far louder than she had ever thought it would be. Her ears were ringing and sharp pains were spreading from her torso around her whole body. The other man picked off the two children with ease as they were running back to the house, a deafening bang accompanying each shot.

Amy saw her sons fall to the ground like the stuffed toys they had played with throughout their short lives. They didn't move, and she knew they wouldn't be getting up. She tried to scream, but she was unable to. She looked down to her midriff to discover two large red patches growing by the second on the front of her floral dress. Looking back at the men in horror, she wanted to know why they had just done this. The two strangers climbed back into the car with slight smiles on their faces and were gone as quickly as they had arrived.

Amy's strength was failing. She was in horrendous pain, and worst of all, she knew her children were dead. She was sure she was about to join them wherever they had departed to. She leaned against a post supporting the porch and started to slowly slide to the ground. As she felt her strength sap away, she noticed another silver Mercedes drive around the corner. Then everything went black.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Jake was almost home, seemingly seconds after leaving work. He flicked the indicator on to signal he was turning right at the next junction. He slowed down and found a gap in the traffic moving the opposite direction, allowing him to turn onto Wymundham Way.

After turning into the street on which he and his family lived, he still had a couple of corners to drive around before he arrived at his house. His wife could usually spot him from a distance, and by the time he pulled up, his two sons would be bounding out of the front door towards him just as they always did.

When he was just seconds away he heard a loud bang, followed closely by three more. The first one sounded rather like a tyre blow out from a neighbour's car, but on hearing the next three, he wondered if a firework had been lit somewhere. Knowing a little from crime television shows, he feared for what sounded suspiciously like a gun being fired.

Drug problems and gang warfare could often have resulted in shootings in the area surrounding a city. Everything was bigger in cities, including criminal activity. Shootings might happen in bigger places but not in their small town, and not in this neighbourhood.

Jake drove around the last bend to see an almost identical silver Mercedes heading towards him. He panicked, but steered wide enough to avoid the oncoming car as it sped past him. There was no sign of an apology, and no reaction at all from the two dark figures in the other vehicle. They were obviously not concerned with manners.

Jake was focussed on the car in his rear view mirror so intently that he failed to notice he was heading towards his own gatepost. His attention was refocused in front of him just in time to see the front of his car whack the edge of his own property with great force. The iron gatepost collapsed to the side with the weight of the now unsupported gate attached to it, and several airbags in the car flew up in his face and sides.

For a few seconds everything was a bright white and all he could see was airbag. The first few thoughts that came to mind when he realised what had happened all involved the word, “expensive.” He fought until he was free of the two large white airbags on his side of the car, and clambered out of the door, covered in a white powder and ready to make a grovelling apology to his wife.

Jake stepped out of the car and couldn't believe what was in front of his eyes. This wasn't real. It couldn't be. The usual scene of happy children and a beautiful wife were replaced with a frame from a horror movie. His wife was slumped in front of the porch with two huge scarlet stains around her stomach, obviously from the bullets he heard being fired. Were the children in the house? Did they hear? He needed to find them.

He hurried anxiously past the edge of his car, numb from head to foot and completely unable to feel anything but a kind of light-headed panic. As he walked around the car his two sons came into view, lying face down on the grass next to the driveway, about ten feet from the door. It took all of his effort to stay on his feet.

He could not believe what had happened. He began to see what had unfolded just seconds before he had arrived home. Whoever had been in the other silver car had driven up to the house. Amy and the kids had thought it was him, and so were ready to greet him as he arrived. Those two men must have reacted in seconds, and the four shots were the sound of his wife and children leaving him alone in this world.

He now wished he'd at least hit the other car. Within moments, he wished he'd hit it, hurt the two strangers, locked them in the car and burned it. The excessive patience which Jake held was, in an instant, as much of a part of history as his family had just become.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~


No more Mr Nice Guy. It sounded so clichéd, but it could not have been any more fitting when it was first expressed, or in any of its many uses since then. Jake was ready to go out and destroy every silver Mercedes he ever laid eyes upon from now until the end of his life. Someone had destroyed his life, and he needed to even up the score somehow.

The worst part of it all was the mystery surrounding it. The police had come and gone but they could not shed much light on the situation.

Initially, the police had questioned Jake. Apparently this was standard procedure for such an incident. He needed to be eliminated from suspicion. He had agreed to go with the officers to the police station, and to provide his fingerprints and a DNA sample, and to give his own statement of events.

The neighbours had only looked out of their windows when they heard gun shots, and then all any of them had seen in the January twilight amounted to two figures, probably men, getting into a silver car and driving off, seconds before seeing Jake drive home.

The accounts of various neighbours helped to clear Jake of any involvement in the shootings. Sadly, all of the neighbours had been too far away to be of any use in identifying these men. The only useful information they could provide was to confirm that the car had looked exactly like Jake’s. No one could even give the police a registration number.

The police, of course, had checked Jake’s whereabouts and his movements for the day, and had admitted that he was no longer considered a suspect in his family’s murders. He barely registered what they had told him. His life was all but over and no one seemed able to find out who was responsible.

The last thing the police had done, before leaving Jake alone, was to section off the front of his house as a crime scene. The accounts of witnesses suggested the shooters did not enter the house. Initial forensic examination confirmed that to be the case. He was informed that he could stay at the house overnight if he kept clear of the front of the property and did not open the front door. Initially he had no desire of staying in that house. It was only pure exhaustion and lack of transport that led him to conclude that he could handle one last night in that house.

Nobody could offer any credible explanation as to why this had happened. Was it some revenge-seeking gang who had simply targeted the wrong house? Was it some crazed customer of his company who had managed to find him? Was it just a couple of lunatics, driving around shooting people for the fun of it? Could it have been a drug fuelled robbery gone wrong? He would never know the truth of it all now.

He wasn't ready to let his family go without a reason. He needed to know why this happened. There was no way that Jake was going to believe that his family died as a result of some random act of madness. He could not even begin to come to terms with his loss without finding a reason or purpose behind this outrage.

As Jake looked through the large doors opening onto the balcony, he could see that rain was still hammering on every surface outside. The lightning was still around.

He wanted to have one last good go at something out there. He decided that he didn't care if he got soaked. He wouldn't care much if he caught pneumonia and died. In fact, that seemed like a suitable way out of this nightmare of a life he now faced. He didn't care whether any of the neighbours heard him and complained. Shouting would make him feel better, and if someone wasn't happy with that, then they'd just have to face his wrath. The clichéd phrase “No more Mr Nice Guy” sounded in his head again.

Jake opened the left hand door again and walked outside. The rain was certainly heavy. After drying off inside he was soaked to the skin again in about twenty seconds. He looked up at the sky and saw the occasional fork of lightning strike at some distant point on the horizon.

“I need a reason for all of this! My family did not die for nothing! WHY?” With every word, every thought, tears started streaming down his face.

“I could've stopped all of this. If I'd got home on time instead of talking to that fool in accounting, my wife and kids would still be alive. If only I could go back.”

Jake didn't see a shooting star, he had no access to a wishing well, and he didn't have a magic lamp, but he wanted to make a wish anyway. For all he knew there just might be a shooting star behind a cloud somewhere up there. Not that he believed in any of that anyway.

“I wish I could go back and stop it. I wish I could turn back time!” Just as he spoke the last word, a horrendous crash seemed to surround him. A mighty clap of thunder echoed around him for most of a second and he wondered if perhaps he or his house had been struck by lightning.

Seconds later he saw another fork of lightning in the distance. There were several quick flashes. For a brief moment he wondered if he was starting to get delusional. Had he really seen what he thought he had just seen? Was he drunk, or was he losing his mind? He could have sworn there had been four almost simultaneous flashes of forked lightning in the distance. They looked to him like letters of the alphabet.

The word WISH was spelled out on the horizon in the most spectacular display of forked lightning he’d ever seen. Perhaps he was even more drunk than he’d thought.

Coincidence, he told himself. Lightning could form any one of an infinite number of shapes. No one heard his feeble cry into the night. On the grand scale of things, his cry was nothing. No one had the power to put things right now. Jake would do what he could to avenge his young family's death, but it could never be put right.

Jake eventually decided that he’d had enough of venting for one evening. Tomorrow he was going to figure out what he was going to do from here. He had a lot to organise. He now had family to contact and a funeral to arrange. After that he'd have to consider what he was going to do with his life.

He changed, ready for bed, and went robotically through his usual evening routine of washing his face and brushing his teeth. It seemed like so long ago since he had gone through his standard morning tasks.

He set the calendar for the next day. He always set it the night before. He didn't bother setting the alarm before he glanced up at the digital clock whilst retiring to his bed. It read 23:56.

He didn't suppose he would get much sleep, but he would try. There was no sense yelling at the sky all night. The end of a long day had finally arrived. Hopefully he could stop thinking about death and revenge for a few hours. He closed his eyes and in no time was out like a light.

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