This is an incomplete account of when I ran away from home in June 2003.
“I don’t care anymore!”
The words echoed through his head as he strode down the short, concrete drive. Escape was the main objective, so he decided the towpath which ran beside the old canal would offer the best cover. So he turned left, heading for Coxheath Bridge.
Sunset had been hours gone and the thick, dark clouds eclipsed any possibility of moonlight. The unlit canal in its shifting chiffon of splashes curved away beneath him as he crossed the bridge. Rainwater had formed a gurgling brook beside the steps as he descended carefully down, down to his best chance for escape. The lazy local police would not bother to follow in these conditions - it was unlikely they would even be notified, he bitterly considered.
The towpath was transformed by the night; he had to strain his eyes to make out the rippling waters from the dull shrub which lined his route. He gradually grew accustomed to the low light level as he made his way to the next bridge.
The splashing of the heavy raindrops had a greater influence than he had anticipated as he left that place. Now, under the shelter of the second bridge, he could not resist adding his own warm stream to those that poured from the keystones on either side of him. He made his contribution and trudged on to the next bridge, in damp solitude.
His strides were long and brisk but the trail was never-ending. He reached a style which allowed access to a public footpath across the adjascent field, a familiar feature. It led down to the village, but even standing on the top rung of the fence he could see no distinct lights - just a dim glow, reflected in the low clouds. It saved him from pitch darkness, at least.
As he climbed down he stumbled but did not fall. He took this as a small comfort - a good omen, perhaps - and continued on his dreary way. It seemed so eternally far! He would have covered this distance and more in a fraction of the time if he had cycled. But he had no lights, so such a mission would have been disastrously foolhardy.
He stopped dead in his tracks and began to count seconds. By the time he had reached twenty-three, there was still no sign of the associated thunder. Had he simply imagined the light? His mind was madly racing in anticipation for the sound which was never to reach him. The quiet was so unnervingly conspicious, only the rain saved him from total silence. He began walking again with steps not so long or brisk now but tentative, expecting something.
His mood was transformed. Setting off from that machine in which he lived he had been enraged, barely thinking. Now, in the thick, choking darkness, terror and foreboding surrounded him and played on his mind. Such was the strength of its occupation that he did not notice a following pair of apparently silent flashes.
He wished there were someone to help. Out here, in the normally idylic Hampshire countryside, there were no people. The bitter irony that he had fled in the hope of it helping, yet now he was beyond help was not lost on him. Beyond help. The thought terrified him. He tried to block it out by concentrating on his now autonomous movement.
The steel checker-plate that had been used to surface this, the only swing-bridge he knew, gave a more solid platform on which to stand. The sharp, cold echoes of his anxious pacing were worlds apart from the dull squelching given up by the sodden towpath. He was only too aware of the lighting now as the angry storm developed towards it’s crescendo. It seemed angry, as though offended by his oblivious regard of it earlier.
He paced in a figure of eight on the bridge, enjoying the metalic sounds it created. The rythmic clanging built up a beat in his soul, a pounding urge for battle. But to battle what? He could not fight the rain or the dark. He stopped, feeling somewhat at a loss and a little dizzied by his circuits.
It was now, whilst he was at his most vulnerable, that the storm took its opportunity. He was startled by the intensity of the flash which arced down from the heavens in the distance. He barely had chance to consider counting seconds before the low rumbling began. Strangly quiet at first, it seemed distant and not dangerous. At first, at least.
He had often wondered where the phrase “rolling thunder” came from. Now he was learning as the angry, progressive roar made its unstoppable march across the cloud-filled sky. Eminating from in front and a little to the right, its approach rendered him immobile with fear as he witnessed nature’s fury. Louder and lourder - the amplitude grew so great that as it passed overhead that his senses were overloaded by it. It seemed to linger there, enjoying the absolute control it was exercising over him, before continuing it’s menacing march onward.
The instant it had passed he near scampered back to the towpath, such was his haste to depart from that experience.
After some time, the trees parted away to either side as he entered the area where dredged waste from the bed of the canal used to be dumped. It was now a lush heath, such was the undisturbed voracity of the local fauna now. He remembered being allowed onto the floating digger which was used. It was at a local fete which he had attended with his father, years and years ago. They had been happy that day; it seemed another life now. His pace didn't change as the scenery and his emotions closed back in around him.
The subsequent bridge required him to bend almost double to pass underneath. As he stood upright, having exited through the other side of the span, he noticed a pair of narrowboats moored along the warf. He would have to pass right beside them.
He tried to tread carefully as he passed their silent silhouettes. But still he scrubbed a pebble with his left foot - the sound seemed like a gunshot to him, such was the silence in this now rainless night. He continued on, as no-one appeared to have stirred to stop him.
The next feature he knew of would be the quay were boats were launched into the canal. He had no idea how far ahead that landmark would be and he had now wandered so far from any settlement that the dull overhead glow to help him near the village had all but dissapeared. With the rainless, windless night he pressed on into the darkness.
The interuption to his trek, caused by a recently detached branch hanging across the towpath, punctuated the monotomy. It been unable to weather the onslaught of the storm, so now hung limp and drenched. He had recoiled suddenly upon contact with it and the damp leaves had left a cold trail across his cheek.
The next obstacle was as much a surprise as the first but infinitly more welcome. A fortification from the second world war, with thick brick walls and a concrete roof, had offered a secure defensive position to the Home Guard during the battle of Britain. Now it offered protection for a rather more humble cause. He had passed it many times without ever entering but now, with his feet complaining from the incessant marching, the chance of shelter was the most desirable prospect in the world.
The structure was big; much bigger than he had realised. It was covered with ivy and moss which he fumbled through trying to find an entrance. He feared that the canal authority may have thought it prudent to brick up the doorway and this would thwart his plan for resting inside. After rounding three of the five sides he found the low entrance. Stooping down, he entered cautiously.
What met his entry was an eriee, textureless quiet. It was neither hard nor soft, just soundless. The darkness was so total that he thought for a moment he must be asleep. The close, dull echoes of his footsteps on the dusty concrete floor was so strange an acoustic effect that the credulity of thinking this to be a dream seemed well supported. He edged slowly around the outer edge of the single room, right around until he reached the entrance again. He had established that there was a massive, square pillar in the middle of the room as he had brushed past it at a couple of places due to the hexagonal floor plan.
He moved to the far side of the room, the pillar blocking his view of the entrance. He used the backlight of his watch to illuminate the area so that he could find any debris but found it clear of anything bar the dust from the slowly decaying ceiling. There were no stones either; the surface was hard but smooth. He removed his heavy coat, soaked nearly the whole way through still, smoothed it out on the ground and curled up on top of it. The padding of the coat served to cushion him from the solid floor a little but not enough for it to be comfortable.
Several times he was awoken from his uneasy dozing by the call of a fox or the ghostly hooting of an owl. There seemed no hope for real sleep and yet, by resigning himself to a conclusion, found his mind to be more at ease than it had been for many hours. Eventually, he fell into a turbulent sleep filled with troubled dreams.
Someone was in the room with him. The presence didn’t feel threatening and he would have welcomed the company even it had.
“Hello?” he tentativly requested. The figure seemed surprised. Even with the total absence of sight, he could detect something about this stranger, as if they had met before. The response was whispered in return:
“Ben?” The syllables were soft as the tone of a flute but distint enough for him to recognise the voice immediately. Although his conclusion seemed unlikely he felt no fear of being incorrect. It was Carole. They had met the previous summer in the Republic of Ireland whilst he was on holiday. She had lived in the coastal town all her life and worked in a restaurant he had visited. They had met again on the beach and this led to a more intimate nocturnal rendezvous.
He gestured for her to join him without even realising that she would be able to see in the gloom. But she followed the invitation and although it seemed inappropriate to question the implausability of the situation he could not resist.
“But Carole, how can you be here, in England?”
“Don’t you want me here?” she replied, a slight edge to the previously harmonious sound of her speech.
“Of course I want you here,” he soothed, “this just seems sort of...unlikely?” He tried to gather his thoughts. “I mean, you couldn't know that I was going to run away today, let alone that I lived in this county, in this town - or that I’d shelter in this pillbox. It doesn’t make any-” He was interupted by her placing a finger gently across his anxious lips.
“What does it matter, Ben?” The simplicity of her words removed his confusion whilst the gentle tone relaxed him completely. So graceful was her delivery and so captivating the accent that the jarring phonetics of his name were rendered as elegant architecture. What was there to worry about?
They moved towards each other, the heat from her breath making his skin tingle, just as it had done when they met in the Republic. Dialog became insufficient to convey the orchestral complexity of their desire. Each carress was the product of a thousand wishful thoughts and each kiss forged from a year of fantasy.
They paused to silently discuss the next phase, their bated breath indicating their enjoyment. Tenderly, he slid his hand slowly from where it had been resting upon her waist all the way to the back of her neck, beneath the smooth fronds of her soft hair. He felt for the clasp of her simple necklace and, with a slight hesitation, unhooked and slid it away to one side. He waited for her reaction. It came with the care of a vixen tending to an injured cub as she eased herself against him and begin kissing his throat.
Within this fortified cocoon they alone knew of the beautiful creature they became together. Without interference of fear they revelled in the ecstasty of each other.
* * * * *
The morning chorus of the surrounding woodland provided an inappropriate soundtrack for the scene which presented itself at the end of his slumber. The dust around him was unoccupied - and undisturbed from when he had entered. The unsympathetic architecture around him was no longer an image of protection but was now callous and fierce. It was yet another experience to amplify his mental torture and quicken his pace. His only destination was forward.
At some points the trees lining the winding canal had been felled creating large, trunk-lined clearings. He paused in one such area, absorbing the peaceful respite from his long, jolting strides. He observed the ceiling of stars above, their imperceivably slow passage across the nocturnal schene calmed his turbulent mind. He compared there outward composure to his own, pondering whether their distant, inflamed hearts held much relevance to his own current state.
The thought entertained him and he set of again, letting it playfully frolick through his mind.
After many more clearings and another sharp shower, his synthetic transport brought him to the familiar sight of the Barley Mow Quay. This was familiar to him and he ambled off the towpath and into the car park. The sight of a ninety degree transfer pylon was distinctive and welcome to him. Staunt and deformed its usually unsightly appearence marked the road which crossed over the murky waters of the canal. He was unsure of the route over the canal but knew the opposite direction, which led to a small railway station some miles further down.
However, he had no money, so the decision was made on his behalf to walk into the unknown.