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Sunday, 25 November 2012

The collapsed body - that was Mary!

It was a damp autumn Sunday morning. William and Mary were driving on the narrow B1723, through the Kent countryside, going down the twelve-hundred yard long steep incline towards the bend in the road, at the spot known locally as 'Carlton bottom', where it came out of Upper Carlton Wood. At this stretch of the road the trees either side of it were so close to each other that their canopy of branches met above the tarmac; forming the rib-cage of a tunnel. In the summer with a full compliment of leaves on the branches, if there was a cloud cover blocking the sun's full light, it was often necessary to put on the cars headlights to see the road clearly. It wasn't the case that morning as the fast majority of the leaves had been shed onto the ground. The black tarmac road was covered in patches by a mottled hue of yellow, brown, crimson, and golden leaves.

Although their journey to the hospital, to be with their three-year old daughter Samantha, was later than they had planned, William was being careful not to drive too fast, particularly on this stretch of the road. Experience had shown that at this time of the year, with the ground-level mist in the mornings the fallen leaves could impersonate black ice on the road's surface. The tightness of the bend where the B1723 exited the woods was deceptive: several non-local drivers had been caught unaware by the unmarked curve on this quiet country road.

As the car approached the bottom of the incline and the bend William selected a lower gear for the engine, rather than use the brakes, to slow the car a little more. As they safely followed the road to the left they couldn't fail to see the car ahead of them on the right-hand side verge. It was upside down in the ditch against the dense hedgerow.

William stopped his car on the left-hand grass verge, just beyond the crash scene, where there was enough space to get off the road. He and Mary got out of the car as quickly as they could and ran back across the road towards the upturned vehicle.

From the marks on the grass verge it looked as though the driver had misjudged the bend and the car had drifted three feet off the road towards the right. Unfortunately the offside wheels had dropped into the one foot wide concrete drainage gully; that ran for twenty-five yards along this part of the bend; that had been recently installed to eliminate the frequent flooding of the road at this point. The sudden drop of the right-hand side of the car, the gulley taking over control of it, and the g-force on that side of the vehicle because of the momentum of trying to turn left had then resulted in the car rolling onto its roof, possibly twice, and landing in the five feet wide, two feet deep, ditch in front of the substantial Hawthorn and Ash hedge. The car was positioned at a forty-five degree angle to the road. The front section, from the crumpled bonnet to the rear passenger doors, was lying in the ditch and the rear boot section pointing slightly upwards, resting on the side of the ditch furthest from the hedge.

Even in the position and at the angle it was; William recognised the wreckage as a beige 1982 Ford Cortina Mk. V Estate-car: he recognised the number plate even though it was the wrong way up. They had bought that same car when they first moved to the area to start up their smallholding twenty years before. They had used it daily for ten years until they sold it, as they thought for it to be scrapped.

Although it must have come from the same direction as them, they hadn't seen it in front of them at any time. As they ran towards the Cortina the signs were that the accident hadn't happened too long ago. There was steam and smoke rising from the bonnet area and the front wheel on the far side was still slowly rotating.

William was the first to get to the car, going straight away to the nearest front door. With the car being upside-down this was the driver's door. He could see a man, head down, being held in position by his seat belt. His head was against the window with blood running from a cut on his forehead. He didn't appear to be moving. William had to lie down on the grass to look into the car to see if there was anyone else inside: there was only the driver.

Mary; call 999 and tell them about this,” William shouted, “tell them there's an injured man trapped inside. They need to send an ambulance plus the fire brigade, to cut him out.” Mary ran back to their car to use her mobile phone.

William could see that the driver's and rear doors on that side couldn't be opened, trapped by the bank of the ditch, so he went round the rear of it to try the doors on the other side.

He heard Mary shouting to him: “I can't get a signal neither on mine or your phone. I'm going to drive up to the top of the hill and try there.” With that said she was quickly in their car and driving to a better advantage height.

OK, I'm going to try to get the driver out,” but Mary didn't hear him.

As soon as he got to the far side of the ditch he could see that the hedgerow was not going to let him open either of the doors. As he went around the rear of the car he thought he could smell petrol. He returned to the drivers door and was relieved to see some movement from the man.

William knocked on the window and shouted: “Hello in there. Can you hear me? Are you alright? Can you move? Are you hurt?” The only reply he received was murmurs and groans. “Hello in there. We've called 999, help should be here soon.” William knew, even though he said it, soon would be quite some time because of their isolated countryside location. “We'll get you out as quick as we can,” but there was no we, only William.

He had to get the driver released from his seat belt and out of the car. He considered smashing the window to reach in to free the driver, but the man's head was against it. He needed the man to help himself, but there was still no meaningful response. Continuing to knock hard on the glass he shouted; “Hello, Hey in the car, Hello, Can You Hear Me?”

In the silence whilst he waited for a reply, William was sure he could hear a crackling noise coming from the engine compartment area. It reminded him of a noise similar to that he often heard from the overhead electricity cables on the pylon near his and Mary's house.

Help, help me somebody,” came a quiet, slow, slurred response from inside the car.

Hey it's OK, I'm here and help is on its way,” William reassured the man.

I can't move. Where am I?”

You're in your car and you've had a slight accident. What's your name?”


I'm William, Brian, I'm going help you until the ambulance and fire brigade get here. My wife Mary has called them. Do you hurt anywhere?”

All my chest and my right shoulder hurts, and a stabbing pain when I breath. Where am I?”

You're upside down and suspended by your seat belt, can you undo it?”

After a pause: “No I can't reached the button, and it hurts too much to move.”

That's OK if you open the window I'll reach in and release you.”

Another pause: “I can't find the handle. Oh God I hurt!”

OK Brian it wont be too long now.”

William could hear a car's engine, he looked round, it was Mary returning. She was soon standing beside William. He stood up. “Are they coming?” he asked her quietly so Brian wouldn't hear; although he wouldn't have because the window was still shut.

They're on their way, but it could be ten to fifteen more minutes because of the distance,” and after a short pause, “I can smell petrol.”

I know so can I.”

Will; what are we going to do?”

I've got to try and release him from the seatbelt so we can get him out.”

Suddenly there was a loud pop from the front end. Smoke and a few flames could be seen in the engine compartment.

Bloody hell! Mary run and get the fire extinguishers from the boot of our car.”

She ran back to their car as fast as she could, kicking of her stiletto high heel shoes as she went. She very quickly returned handing one of the two extinguishers to William. Without hesitation he pulled out the safety pin and squeezed the trigger handle. As soon as the foam started to spurt out he handed the extinguisher back to Mary. “Keep aiming it at where the flames are coming from,” he ordered Mary. He bent down to check on Brian.

What was that bang?” Brian asked.

Nothing to worry about.”

I can smell petrol fumes! I can smell burning rubber! What's happening?”

Don't worry; Mary's dealing with it; she's sorting it out.”

You've got to help me get out of here! The car's on fire isn't it? I don't want to be burnt to death!”

That's not going to happen.”

On cue Mary shouted: “It's out Will, it's out.”

Problem sorted Brian,” William said as he stood-up to talk to Mary.

They stepped two paces away from the estate car. William summed up the situation: “We can't wait any longer. I've got to get him out now. The fire brigade and medics could be ages and if there's another fire before they get here, with all these petrol fumes around, that could be the end for Brian.”

You'll have to leave it to them, they'll know what to do. You can't move him, it could injure him more.”

I think I can get him out through the back door, it's the easiest way.”

No William; it's too dangerous for you to go into the car. What if a fire starts again?”

In that case that's why we have to get him out now! I know the inside of this Cortina back to front, I know what I've got to do.”

With that William went to the rear of the upside down car and pushed the rear door catch. To his relief the door started to fall open. The door's gas struts pushed it all the way open.

Keep your eye on the engine compartment,” he shouted to Mary as he climbed in to the boot area, kneeling on the roof, which was now the floor.

OK Brian I'm coming to get you out.”

Hurry, please hurry, the petrol smell is getting worse. Oh God I hurt.”

William's first task was to get the backrest of the rear seat out of the way, to give him more room, so he could go forward. He knew it folded down and where the release catch was, but had to remember everything was the wrong way up. He pressed it but the backrest didn't move out the way; gravity was working against him; it just hung down loosely where it was. He needed to push it up and something to prop it up out of the way. Looking around on the ceiling there was a garden spade. He picked it up, used the blade to push the back-rest up and the handle end was forced against the roof to wedge it there.

He moved forward and was then behind the driver's seat. What was he to do next.

OK Brian I'm behind you. Listen to me. I'm going to try to take some of your weight off the seatbelt so that I can release it. When I do, you'll slide down, and it will probably hurt a bit but it has to be done.”

He put his arm under Brian's left shoulder and was about to press the seatbelt release.

He heard Mary's shouting: “Will, Will, a fire has started again! Get out of there!”

You've still got a bit left in the extinguisher and you've got the other one as well. Stop the fire Mary, put it out fast,” he yelled back.

Hold on Brian here we go, we can't hang about”

The release catch was pressed. The belt was free. William couldn't support Brian enough so he fell, hitting his head on the roof.

Aarrgghh!” Brian screamed.

William reached up and pulled the driver's seat backrest release lever. He pushed the back up, using the ratchet mechanism to hold it almost horizontal, to give him access to Brian and to give a clearer exit path. Brian dropped down further, he was now laid on his front, his left arm trapped under him, head to the rear of the car and feet against the dashboard.

Aarrgghh!” he screamed.

WILL, WILL, its not working I can't put it out! Get out of there, NOW!”

William and Brian knew that because they could smell burning. The engine compartment firewall would protect them for a while.

Its now or never Brian, we've got to go.”

Help me! Don't leave me! I don't want to die like this! Don't let me burn!”

William looked to the front of the car and could see the amber glow of flames through the shattered windscreen. His heart was thumping in his chest. He tried to get hold of Brian to pull him but Brian was laid on his front not on his back.

Sorry, no time to discuss this” William said as he rolled him over onto his back. He knew it wasn't the right move to make, in case it caused complications to Brian's injuries, but the fire was the biggest complication.

Aarrgghh!” was the only reply from Brian. He was on his back.

Brian; listen to me. When I lift your shoulders and pull, you have to push like hell with your feet. Do you understand? Push like hell no matter how much it hurts. Here we go. One, two, three, PUSH!”

Aarrgghh!” They'd moved about six inches.

One, two, three, PUSH!”

Aarrgghh!” They'd moved another nine inches.

Dragging Brian out was proving more difficult than William had thought it would be.

Mary had thrown the empty extinguishers away, they hadn't done their job. The engine area was engulfed in flames. She was running back and forth, from the fire to the rear of the car: William and Brian’s only way out.

WILLIAM, GET OUT NOW. Leave him if you have to,” She screamed. She only used William when she was angry with him. How dare he put himself in such danger. How dare he jeopardise her and Samantha's future. She was angry and frightened.

Then she thought she'd heard the faint sound of a two tone siren in the distance. She was right; there it was growing louder as she listened. Then there was a second two tone to support the first. It sounded like a beautiful duet to Mary. The volume was increasing even more. She turned and looked up the road towards the woods and suddenly saw a flashing blue light. Then there was another. As the ambulance and fire engine entered the tunnel of trees these acted like a megaphone; the four tone duet became a cacophony of sound. Mary could hear the sirens shouting: “We're coming, nearly there, we're coming, nearly there; you're safe now, help is here, you're safe now, help is here.”

Inside the car William's repetitious command and Brian's painful response could still be heard. Mary turned back towards the car to tell the two of them that help was arriving now. There was a bright flash and a whoomph as the flames engulfed the outside of the car.

NO, OH MY GOD NO!” she screamed.

Inside the Cortina, William could now hear the comforting sirens.

Push Brian . . . one, two, push . . one, push: we're nearly out and the help has arrived.”

At that instance William saw a bright flash and a whoomph as the flames engulfed the outside of the car.

I don't deserve to die like this,” he thought “I'm just trying to help somebody to live. I can't leave Mary and Samantha on their own. I refuse to die like this!”

He took a firmer grip of Brian and pulled with every bit of his tiring strength.

If you don't want to be burnt to death Brian ignore the pain and push with your legs with all your might and keep on pushing.”

They were now in the boot area; so close to the rear door; and William accidentally dislodged the spade used to wedge up the rear seat backrest. The blade of the spade fell down onto Brian's chest whilst the backrest dropped down hitting William in the face. This stunned him for a moment, but he kept hold of Brian. He started to pull again and at last could feel his feet on the edge of the rear tailgate. He could feel the heat of the flames on his face and neck.

Suddenly he felt a power grab hold of him and start pulling him. “There are two of them.” a strange muffled voice shouted. William saw a pair of arms that weren't his take hold of Brian, pulling him as well.

He could feel and see foam being jetted over both of them. He felt a lot cooler. He could see the sky. He was being dragged away from the burning wreckage. He could see two beige robots with yellow heads and yellow cylinders on their backs carrying Brian. There was another bright vermilion ball of light and a very loud explosion.

Next morning when Mary and William, with his bandaged hand and a replica of a sun-burnt face, were driving past the crash site they saw that all that was left of the 1982 beige Ford Cortina Mk. V Estate-car was a charcoal coloured metal skeleton. Everything that could have burnt away had. The charred remains of the hedgerow stretching ten feet either side of the wreckage was testament to the intensity of the fire.

That was nearly your crematorium: would have saved me funeral costs,” said Mary in a wry tone, belying her feelings about the previous day.

Four days after the crash, whilst visiting Samantha in hospital, William and Mary decided to visit Brian in his ward. When the police crash investigation constable had been to their home, two days after the accident to get a statement, they'd asked after Brian and were informed he was recovering in hospital and his full name.

Hello Brian, I don't know if you remember me but we met in your upside-down car? This is my wife, Mary, and I'm William in case you've forgotten. I'm sorry if I hurt you or have caused you extra complications when I was helping you to get out.”

That morning's still a bit hazy but I'll never forget you and what you did. The police tell me you saved my life.”

What are your injuries?” Mary asked.

A broken left collar bone, a fractured sternum, two fractured ribs, one broken rib, punctured lung, concussion, a small cut to my forehead and a few scorch marks. Nothing compared to death.” After a short pause he continued: “It probably would have been a fractured collar bone and three fractured ribs before William grabbed hold of me. A bit clumsy of him . . . but hey he gave me my life,” said Brian with a big smile on his face.

Always glad to be of assistance” said William nonchalantly.

After a few more minutes of chat about Brian's recovery Mary said:” Come on Will it's time to go to Samantha.”

We must go now Brian,” said William, adding: “we're off to be with our daughter, she's in the oncology ward upstairs.”

I'm sorry to hear that, what's wrong with her, if you don't mind me knowing?” asked Brian.

She has a Neuroblastoma, a type of cancer,” replied Mary.

They then went on to explain, in brief terms, more about it and the treatment Samantha was having. They explained to him that due to National Health Service funding restrictions she wasn't able to have the latest type of treatment available. The local Health Trust would not fund the treatment as it necessitated travelling out of the country. They told him about their fund raising campaign, 'The Samantha Hitchins Appeal Trust', so that they could pay for the special treatment themselves.

They got up to leave Brian to recuperate and as they were moving away from his bed he asked: “How much have you raised so far and how much more do you need?”

So far we've managed £55,940 which leaves us approximately £45,000 more to raise in the next eight months otherwise it will possibly be too late for her,” said Mary, with a tightness developing in her chest and throat, and moisture in her eyes.

Will you call in to see me the day after tomorrow, I'd like to give a donation to help Samantha's appeal.”

You don't have to give anything, that's not why we mentioned it,” replied William.

I know that, but please call in.”

They left to be with Samantha.

Two days later they called in to see Brian as he'd asked. They knew they were to be given a donation and didn't expect much, but every little bit could help them get vital treatment for Samantha. They assumed that as Brian had been driving the thirty-year old Ford Cortina Estate, that they had sold ten years previous when it was worse for wear and ready for scrapping, that money was probably a little scarce for him.

High Brian, you're looking better today; well on the road for recovery we see,” said William.

Hi you two, yes I'm feeling better each day, thanks for coming.”

No thanks needed Brian, we are here everyday at the moment to be with Samantha,” said Mary.

Yes they are; more than I can ever say.” Mary was about to say something but Brian put his hand up, with the palm facing her, like a policeman stopping traffic. “I won't keep you away from her for too long but there is something I need to say.” He thought for a few seconds and began: “When I was in the car and it caught on fire and you were trying to get me out, William, I thought I was going to die in a most horrific way. You could have left me, and if the roles had been reversed, I'm not certain I would have stayed. You saved my life.” He paused to control himself. “You've given me a future I nearly lost. You and Mary have told me about Samantha and your fight, through the appeal, to get funds to buy the best treatment possible to try and give her a better future. You shouldn't have to fight. A man who risks his life to save another person he doesn't know deserves better.” Another pause to wipe moisture from his eye. “Mary; will you go into my bedside cabinet please; there is an envelope in there with something for the 'Samantha Hitchins Appeal Trust'. William gave me my life, so I want to try to help Samantha keep hers.”

Mary did as Brian asked and opened the envelope. She looked in and took out the cheque that was inside. She quickly looked at the amount in figures written on the piece of paper and read what she thought was an amazing amount of £450.00 from someone she assumed had little money. At the same time she started to say: “Thank you Brian for the four hundred and . . ” She stopped in mid speech, having re-read the cheque correctly this time.

She read: Pay the 'Samantha Hitchins Appeal Trust' the sum of Forty-five thousand pounds: £45,000.00. Sir Brian Richmond.

William rushed forward and picked up the collapsed body, that was Mary, from the floor.


  1. Watch out Dan Brown. Seriously, I enjoyed it. The story was well laid out with twists and turns. I have never tried writing anything like that, I am unsure how I would do but you have set a high bench mark. Plus you enjoy doing it. Well done.

    1. Wow, thank you so much David.

  2. Joy said by email:
    Enjoyed your story, Elliot. You're getting to be a dab hand...

  3. Olwen said by email:
    Enjoyed reading short story...

  4. Bernadette said by email:
    Very good and I'm very glad it ended well - I don't really like rotten endings.


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