By George David Thomas
On a cold morning in late October, the man John Brown stood at the side of the road that runs from Kirkintilloch to Kilsyth, and looked about him. A pale fog drifted across the fields, and the trees and the dry stone walls floated in and out of view with an air of misty indifference. Sometimes other things too would appear in sight for a brief moment, a bird perched on a gate post, or a cow staring blindly into the distance. Then they would be gone again. Occasionally the fog would thin a little more, and then he would see further, to a man ploughing a field of bare earth, a ghostly woman hanging clothes by the cottages, or in the far distance, the shadows of cripples on the balconies at the old hospital on the hill.
This was the spot where he always rested, and he looked down at the milestone, though he knew what was written on it by heart. Under the arrow pointing to the right, One Mile to Kirkintilloch, and under the arrow to the left, Three Miles to Kilsyth. He watched the cars pass, all moving very slowly through the fog. They looked unreal, as they drifted out of the clouds towards him, and then gradually receded away again and back into the unknown. Idly counting up the years, he reckoned it was now quite a few since he had lost his own licence, and from his seat on the milestone he could see the place where it had happened. The hedgerow had long since grown over the gap, but the farmer still hadn’t put the bloody fence right.
He really couldn’t remember how long he’d been in the ditch when the officers found him, but he did know their manner had been quite rude, given the circumstances. He had tried many times to explain to them that it was the road that had changed course rather than himself, but they had refused all his appeals to reason, and had in fact gone so far as to apply their handcuffs, seemingly in mere prevention of the defiant, helpless gestures of his poor little wrists. The appeal of reason had been equally ineffective on the ears of the judge, and eventually he had gone down, like so many others before him, with a weary sigh of resignation.
Not wishing to endanger his freedom once more though, he now walked everywhere, and mostly considered it not so bad, and often a little better, for they say a man on his own two feet sees things a man on a galloping horse won’t see. Today he was simply collecting his messages. Bread, and milk, and the usual, and if the truth be told, there were few days when he wasn’t simply collecting his messages. Sometimes he would visit his sister Jean at the cottage in Milton, but she rarely seemed pleased to see him, and since they were children she had in fact been afflicted with the kind of sadness that only the lonely and the crabbit can be.
But today he was not seeing his sister, and once he had rested, he got up and made ready to continue on his way to Kirkintilloch. The road was empty, but as he stood on the silvery dew and the settled dust of the grass verge, he could hear a low rumbling sound from the direction of his own travel. He cocked his head to make sure, but the action merely confirmed his suspicions. The sound was lower than that of a car’s wheels rolling on the tarmac, and lower even than that of a truck’s engine through the autumn air. It was getting louder, and closer, but as much as he strained his neck and his eyes, he could see nothing behind the dense white wall of the fog.Next >