Penny watched the carriages pull into the station. The train was on time. All along the platform, people looked at their watches in surprise.
She watched the Virgin livery slow and finally stop in front of her. Along with the rest of humanity she made her way to the nearest carriage door. Penny paused on entry to let an old woman on before her. The old woman smiled in gratitude.
She found a seat easily. Another pleasant surprise "Must be worthy of an entry in the Guinness book of records" she thought to herself.
Penny looked up as someone sat opposite her. Half expecting someone from the 'Dirty Mac brigade', she was further surprised to discover that not only was the male in the same age bracket, but also not bad looking. For a bloke, she conceded.
He smiled at her "Well this is a pleasant surprise." He had a rich deep voice.
Penny smiled in return "I was just thinking the same thing" She ignored her conscience, which called her a liar and that what she was really thinking was 'Did he have a girlfriend?'
"I might even get back in time for Eastenders" She was more than willing to keep the conversation going.
"You watch Eastenders?" She asked in amazement.
"GOOD GOD NO! There's a match on ITV"
"I knew it was too good to be true!"
"Oh I can be persuaded away from a match if the distraction... merits it." There was a definite twinkle in his eye
Penny put on an air of coyness and raised her voice a few octaves. "Are you trying to hit on me?"
"Was that an invitation to try?" Damn that twinkle was annoyingly cute.
"I wouldn't want to offend your girlfriend"
"Ah yes, the fishing for information on a potential rival."
"Its okay frauline. The playing field is sadly empty at the moment."
"It was rather inept and about as subtle as a blow to the head"
"Oh don't worry. I don't mind being abused by beautiful women."
She laughed, "Okay, okay. I said I was sorry."
"So what are you doing tonight?"
"Woa! I'm sorry but not that sorry. Well maybe. What about your football match?"
"What about Eastenders?"
She laughed again "Touché"
Silence descended between them as they stared at each other. His gaze was burning her up inside. She spoke again in an effort to take her mind off the heat coursing through her.
"So where do you intend on taking me." She felt herself blush deeper-god dam it would her body stop acting like that of a thirteen year old "If I was to accept, of course" she added hastily
"Of course. I was thinking of a pub"
"Yes. That way if you turn out to be poor company, I wont miss much of the match."
"Aargh!" She snatched up a discarded Irn-Bru can and threw it at him.
Only it turned out not to be completely empty.
She watched horrified, as rivulets of liquid ran down his face.
He looked down at the orange pool on the table then met her gaze.
"I'm sorry," she whispered "So sorry." People in the carriage were staring at her. She wanted to burst into tears.
"Well" he said rather matter of factly "I think you definitely owe me a date now. But only if you swear that you will not throw more drinks at me. For a start it's a waste."
"No I wont. I promise" Her reply was quiet, humble.
"I'll hold you to that. I've got good lawyers."
"I can't believe I did that"
"You can't believe you did that? You're not the one sitting there covered in Irn-Bru. Wouldn't have been so bad if I actually liked the bloody stuff." He smiled to show that no harm or offence had been taken.
"I hope it does not stain your shirt"
Just then the carriage lurched, followed by a continuous, aggressive vibration.
"What on Earth?" She asked.
"Great" She looked at him in askance "We've derailed. Looks like were both going to miss TV tonight." He supplied in response to her look.
Penny looked around the carriage. She wondered if her face had the expression of nervous worry that everyone else seemed to have.
Suddenly her stomach twisted and she felt disorientated. She looked out the window to re-orientate her internal horizon. Something about their forward motion was not right. She could even see the carriages in front. Then the reason dawned on her. The derailed wheels were steering the carriage away from the track. They were still going forward, but going right at the same time. It was a most peculiar sensation. She looked further up the line.
"Oh my God!" She was surprised that her voice did not quaver.
He looked at her pale face then turned in his seat and looked in the direction of her gaze.
They both watched in silence, as the station got closer. The carriage continued to swing further away from the rails. The train was not scheduled to stop.
Helpless they watched, as the station got closer. The platforms, crowded with commuters waiting to get home.
Panic spread amongst the awaiting crowds as they saw the carriage swing slowly, almost gracefully away from the rails. People, old and young were pushed into the path of the approaching express as those behind tried to flee.
The line in front, full of panicked people was the first indication to the driver that some thing was seriously amiss. He pulled on every brake and emergency device but could only watch as the train entered the station at over sixty miles an hour. The people on the line no more hindrance to the train's progress as a fly was to a windscreen.
Penny's mouth was dry. She had no breath to scream as the platform and its doomed occupants got closer. Could only watch helplessly as the distance closed and the terror was visible on their faces. She tried to close her eyes but could not.
The train slid broad side up the station platform, sweeping all from its path.
Penny found herself floating up out of her seat, as if she was in space. As she soared gently through the air she watched as the other passengers equally gracefully left their seats. She watched as the old woman she had let on first, collided with then bounced off the wall. Others were bouncing off chairs, tables, and loose luggage. Her mind likened it to bizarre human form of pinball. She felt herself collide against something. A little voice spoke in her mind that she would feel that later.
She watched as the bulkhead approached her, seeming to speed up the closer she got to it. She was definitely going to feel this later. Penny and the bulkhead became one for a moment then she lapsed gratefully into darkness.
She had a strange dream. She could feel tiny droplets land on her face. Was it Irn-Bru? It certainly felt sticky. Why Irn-Bru? Her body was afire. Was she still aroused? A train. What had a train got to do with anything? She was confused. Nothing was making sense. Why did she want to be sick? She desperately wanted to pee. And would someone stop that bloody woman screaming. She tried to open her eyes but could not, the light hurt. She tried to roll over, away from the light, but her body refused to move.
Darkness took her.
She remembered. Train. Derailment. Station. Floating. Pain. Oh god, the pain!
She opened her eyes. Could only see grey. Was she dead? In heaven? Hell? Or someplace in between? Her eyes slowly, painfully focused. Everything hurt. She looked without seeing.
Did she lapse back into darkness or was she still awake? Why could she not think? Why was it so hard to concentrate? Why was that woman still screaming?
A moment of clarity floated by. It was the carriage roof. She was outside the train, looking at the roof. Had some one carried her out? Why so many questions? Where were all the answers?
She saw movement out the corner of her vision. A face, blurry came into view. She wanted to laugh, tried to, but she hurt so much. It was the Irn-Bru man. What was his name? More questions. Did she know his Name?
"Thank Christ I found you."
She tried to speak but only a gurgle issued from her lips. What was that stringy substance on her face? It tasted horrible.
"Shhh... Don't try to speak."
She watched him look her all over, all to aware that she had pissed herself.
"What a mess."
She was indignant. How come he had come through with hardly a scratch? A little bit of dust in the hair, a smudge on the cheek another stain on his shirt. That combined, only served to make him more rugged, more handsome? Why the bloody hell was she sizing up a bloke when she was on deaths door?
Would the pain ever stop? At least that woman had stopped screaming. Maybe someone had hit her over the head with a brick, or maybe a train.
She tried to laugh but it just made the pain worse.
She coughed up something. She had no energy to spit. She let it slide from the corner of her mouth. Mr annoyingly handsome-walks from crashes without a scratch-and still looks better, tenderly wiped the corner of her mouth.
That served to annoy her even more. Any other day she would have given her right hand to be waited on hand and foot like this. It took the piss. Piss. Why had she emptied her bladder? Wasn't the humiliation enough? Why was she back to questions?
"Its all right, help is on the way."
She finally found her voice
"It's not if I'm going anywhere"
"Shh don't strain. Do you hurt anywhere?"
She tried to put on an expression of incredulity, and failed "You taking the piss?" Piss again, why did she always come back to bladder control?
"All right, is there anyplace you DON'T hurt?"
"Well that narrows it down some what. Do you reckon they'll fine you for trespass on the tracks?"
"WHAT? You're a right barrel of laughs Mr Irn-Bru man"
"Oh sorry, you never gave me your name."
"Colin? I'm being comforted by a Colin?"
"What's wrong with Colin?"
"Couldn't you have thought of something more, I don't know, macho?"
"Macho? Colin is my name, if you don't like it Miss -I think I'll have a sleep on a sleeper, then tough" He paused as if waiting for something. She re-ran the conversation through her head to find what he was waiting for.
"Penny. My names Penny." She wanted to pee again. "And any jokes about spending one, and I'll kill you"
"Got to catch me first!"
"Oh, ha ha"
"Listen, help will be here shortly. Hang on, okay. You still owe me a night out."
"Why? Where are you going?"
"Other people need help. You'll be fine, others wont be."
"Don't leave me. Please."
"I must. Be strong"
With that he was gone.
Suddenly she was alone. Alone and scared. She felt cold. The pain that she had somehow forgot about, returned. Returned with a vengeance.
She cried out in pain and loss
"OVER HERE!" she heard someone shout
She felt someone approach
A figure dressed in green stepped into view.
"No, my name is Pete, and yours is?"
"Nice to meet you Penny. Different circumstances would have been better, but hey! Can't have everything."
"Hi, my names Joely." Another figure dressed in green appeared at her other side "Do you hurt anywhere?"
She laughed at the question. The two paramedics exchanged glances.
Pete lent over her and shone a small Maglite into her eyes. "Do you feel cold?" he asked.
Again that glance.
Joely rummaged in a bag at her side, Pete in a bag at his. Joely ripped the packaging off something and shook her arms. Sunlight glinted off the silver of the emergency blanket. She quickly, with experience covered her with it.
Pete was still fiddling with something. He cast his eye about, saw something and dragged it closer.
Pete lent over her again "You'll feel a slight prick in your arm. Its nothing to worry about."
"I feel a prick lying here."
Joely stifled a laugh
"That's good that you still have some humour left. There that's it done"
Penny hadn't felt a thing, apart from the continual pain.
" I feel tired."
Again that glance
Joely moved closer to her head. "Don't go to sleep on us Penny. We need you awake. Keep talking to us Penny. Penny are you listening?"
"Can we move her?"
"No her legs are trapped under the carriage"
"Who was that you were taking about when we got here?"
"Colin. He kept me company till you arrived."
"Is Colin hurt?"
"No. He seemed all right."
"Joe can you get her head"
Pete appeared again. "Right Penny we are going to lift your head slightly, then slide this awesome fashion accessory around your neck. It might hurt but we need you to move as little as possible, okay"
"Right here we go"
"There that's it"
As she regained her breath and composure she heard the sounds of Velcro straps.
"That's not too tight, is it?"
Penny found it hard to talk as her chin was thrust back "Can't move my neck."
"That's the general idea"
The face of Joely swam back into view. " I'm afraid we are going to have to do some horrible things to your clothes." She brought up a latex covered hand holding a wicked looking pair of scissors.
"Its all right, I need a good excuse to get some more."
"You need an excuse?"
Joely threw something at Pete. "Don't mind him."
"Do you still feel cold?"
"Not as badly, I'm just more tired"
"So where's Colin?"
Where is Colin? Who is Colin? She was finding it hard to think. The pain had subdued to just a dull throb. They must have given her a painkiller. Damn good it was too.
"Shit! Were loosing her. Come on Penny, fight it. Come on Pennnnyyyy. Don't give in."
Was that somebody calling her? She fought against the blackness.
"Are you still with us Penny?"
"Don't do that. You gave us a fright"
She looked at their faces, gone was the jovial bedside manner. Replaced by something else. Fear? Failure?
Joely let out a sharp intake of breath.
"What?" She fearfully asked.
"Nothing. Just broke a fingernail, that's all. So where did Colin go?"
Penny thought back to those glances, the sleepiness, and the blackness, why they tried to keep her mind occupied.
She was dying.
The blow hit her harder than the train had. Fear induced adrenaline coursed through her veins. She did not want to die. She couldn't die. She was too young. The adrenaline cleared the darkness but brought the pain back.
"Can I have some more of that painkiller?"
"Painkiller? I never..." Joely coughed loudly. "Oh, yes. Sure. Hang on a minute." He fumbled at her side. "There. Is that better?"
"Yes. Thank you."
Pete stopped rustling his paramedic bag and bent back to the task of stopping her blood flow. "So. You still haven't told us about Colin"
"He was here till you arrived. You must have just missed him. He said that he had to go help others."
"But he stayed with you till we arrived?"
"Yes, he wouldn't let me sleep either."
"It must make you proud to have a boyfriend like that. Willing to put others first."
"He's not my boyfriend."
"Maybe you should reconsider your status. You would not believe how many people we had to fight through that thought their cuts or bruises were serious or life threatening. Very few of them thought about the proper casualties"
"Like you. I bet even fewer of them thought about going back to help. Its people like Colin who saves lives, just by keeping people strong till we arrive. Most fatalities happen in the first few minutes. The longer you keep someone alive the greater his or her chance at living is. It's why paramedics like Joe and myself exist.
Another figure joined them. It kneeled to look at her waist. 'DOCTOR' was printed across the back of the fluorescent jacket in letters as big as the jacket would allow.
Pete appeared above her again "I need to leave you now, but I leave you in the capable hands of Joe and Dr..."
"Call me Andy" came the distorted voice
"Joe and Dr Call me Andy" He smiled at her, then was gone.
"What's this stuff?" Andy asked
Penny had forgotten about the light rain
"Pete thinks its either brake fluid or hydraulic oil. There must be a ruptured pipe on the train somewhere close. We've tried to shield her from most of it."
Penny thought of the sticky substance she had felt land on face and had subsequently liked from her lips. Brake fluid. Great.
There was the sound of movement and Pete reappeared in view.
"I'm back. And guess what?"
"I've brought some big strapping blokes with me, and this."
'This' turned out to be a mask.
"Its only oxygen but it'll help clear your head"
She heard a hiss and he placed the clear mask over her nose and mouth.
She did and felt the darkness recede further. There was a lot of movement around her. Fear started to build up. Pete noticed the change.
"Its all right, the fireman are erecting some screens to protect you."
"They're going to have to cut you free. It'll get a bit noisy, and sparks will fly everywhere. But don't worry the screens will protect you from the sparks."
She heard a voice she did not recognise "Ready?"
Pete winked at her and covered her ears with his hands "Go ahead" his voice muffled by his hands over her ears.
She heard what sounded like a motorbike start up followed by a truly dreadful screeching. Even with Pete's hands blocking her ears, the sound still cut to the bone. It was worse than fingernails on a blackboard.
She had no idea how long she laid there. At some point arc lights were brought in, as night slowly fell.
Eventually the noise stopped. Followed by the sound of metal being carefully moved. Call me Andy spent a long time at her legs before giving the all clear. They all clustered around her before lifting her in one well-practised movement onto the stretcher. As practised as it felt it still hurt like hell.
Joely quickly changed her onto a new drip then she was carried slowly across the wreckage.
Pete stepped in close "Have you ever been a helicopter?"
"You soon will be"
"I hope it does not crash"
"No chance of that. You've had ten lifetimes of bad luck already."
They walked along the bottom of an earth bank. A figure higher up the bank came in to view. Dressed in a black cloak with the hood up. Penny thought it was Death, but the downdraft of a circling helicopter swept the hood back. What she had first thought was a skull was only a pale face. It was a girl, a young girl. Penny saw the flash of a red streak in her hair. If she was injured shouldn't she seek help? She went to bring Pete's attention to her but the girl had slipped from view.