Blood Loss by Kerena Swan

Chapter 1
February | Sarah

Twigs and dry leaves scrape and rattle against the wing mirror as I take the corner as fast as I dare. I don’t remember the roads being this narrow when I drove here a week ago, but back then I was excited and happy. Flight was the last thing on my mind. Now the tall hedgerows closing in on either side of the car are making me claustrophobic and I have to swallow down panic at the thought of meeting a car coming the other way. One of us will have to reverse to a passing bay and the driver will see my number plate. My face. The blood…

 

Shit! I didn’t pass that croft on the way here. I’d have remembered the stone squirrels adorning the gate posts. I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere. Another one. These roads all look the same. Trees, grass, hedges and hills. My heart races with panic. Breathe. Breathe.

 

I turn the car around in the gateway to a field and slowly, frustratingly, make my way back to the crossroads, finally spotting a road sign half-hidden in the hedgerow. I snatch up the map and peer at it again, the paper trembling in my hand, then throw it back onto the passenger seat and turn left. My heart is still racing. Calm down or you’ll go wrong again. I squeeze the steering wheel to stop my hands shaking and lean forward to give myself the clearest view of the road.

 

Last week I was looking forward to a holiday. Last week I had a future. Tears well and spill over and I brush them roughly away, wincing as my fingertips touch the bruises on my face. Then I grasp the steering wheel once more and check the mirrors for the hundredth time. No one behind me. No flashing blue lights, no cars, not even a motorbike. Thank God.

 

The adrenaline begins to drain from my system to be replaced by overwhelming weakness. I want to stop the car, lean my head back and shut my eyes but I have to keep going. I have to get away from here before I’m noticed. On impulse I decide I won’t join the motorway at the nearest junction as there might be cameras that will link me to the area. I’ll drive along country roads until I see a sign to the next entrance.

 

When I eventually reach the motorway I let out a long, slow breath and the tightness in my muscles eases a little as the miles pass. Maybe they won’t find me now. Should I have run though? There’s still time to go to the police. I can tell them it was self-defence – explain that I panicked and ran away. They’d understand… Maybe.

 

Maybe not.

 

For a moment I recall the warmth of the blood on my cheek and the expression on his face. A wave of nausea threatens to engulf me so I open the window and let the freezing air gnaw at my skin. I welcome the discomfort. It grounds me in the here and now.

 

Two hours and a hundred or so miles later I pass a blue sign indicating services ahead and glance down at the petrol gauge. My heart jolts as I see I have just a quarter of a tank left. Possibly not enough to get me home to Manchester. I need to buy petrol soon but I’m wary of going into a service station. They’ll have cameras and the police will be bound to look at services along the motorway routes. I glance up at a row of yellow cameras on the gantries above the motorway. Are they automatic numberplate recognition cameras or are they just recording speed? Please, please let no one have spotted me and given my registration to the police.

 

If only my little car had Satnav. I could jump off the motorway and find a petrol station then get back on further south. But my map is out of date and I can’t risk getting lost. The sky is grey and heavily pregnant with snow. I need to keep moving and get home before the weather worsens. I don’t want to get stuck on the motorway and I don’t have spare money for a hotel or even a cheap bed and breakfast.

 

The services slip road approaches and my fingers twitch towards the indicator. Should I chance it? I need the toilet. Rather desperately, now I’ve thought about it. Tension has dried my mouth so I need a drink too. I think longingly of a cold, sparkling coke. Despite the tantalising image I drive past the entrance, my stomach churning and knotted with tension under my thick coat. I can’t get too near other people.

 

So much blood.

 

Before I drove away from the cabin I cleaned my face and hands as best as I could with wet-wipes from the glove box and shoved the stained wipes into an old carrier bag. but I couldn’t get the blood off my blue jeans and navy sweatshirt, and I didn’t dare hang around long enough to change my clothes. I just grabbed my few belongings and ran to the car. I’m sure I smell of blood.

 

What I need is a pay-at-the-pump petrol station. Maybe one attached to a supermarket with a toilet near the entrance so I can slip in unnoticed. I scan the countryside from left to right hoping to see a building complex with a blue and red Tesco sign but there’s nothing except miles of brown fields and skeletal trees. I realise it’s a terrible idea anyway. I need to pay with cash or my card will be traced and I can’t use cash at the pump. I check my cheap pay-as-you-go phone again to make sure it’s switched off. I’ve watched plenty of police dramas and I know how they track people via their phone signals.

 

The traffic increases the further south I get, but I ease into the slow lane and stay behind a lorry while I examine my face in the rear-view mirror. There are still traces of blood around my reddened nose and dark circles are forming under my eyes. By tomorrow I’ll have a pair of comedy shiners. Not that there’s anything comedic about this situation. There are also crusts of blood in my hair, dark red patches, visible against the fairness.

 

If I find a quiet place to stop I can get my make-up out of my bag and try to hide the injuries with some heavy-duty concealer. I’m usually good at covering marks left by fists but this one may not be so easy to hide.

 

Without warning my eyes fill with tears again. They’re tears of anger as well as fear now. Disappointment is in there too. Crushing disappointment. Because none of this

is my fault. None of it.

 

The road blurs and I blink rapidly. It’s dangerous to cry while driving, especially on a motorway. I turn the radio up, hoping some music will calm me down but Bryan Adams starts singing, Cuts like a knife, and I snap the radio off abruptly. How could it all have gone so badly wrong? Why is my life so shit?

 

Manchester is only five miles away now and I think I have enough petrol to make it, after all. I could return to my rented room and pick up my old life as though nothing has happened. I didn’t tell anyone I was going to Scotland because who would I tell? People at work can be bitchy so I prefer to keep to myself. I reach the junction but instead of turning off I put my foot down and pass it by, the road ahead of me suddenly holding greater appeal.

 

A fresh start. That’s what I need. A new life as far away as I can manage. There’s nothing to keep me in Manchester. I’ll go back to Mum’s in Milton Keynes and get a temporary job so I can save up for a place of my own somewhere different. London, perhaps, or maybe Bristol. Supermarket or shop work is usually easy to find. I might need to work long hours and live in one room, but I’m used to that.

 

A sign on the verge informs me it’s another 200 miles to London which means Milton Keynes must be about 150 miles away. I badly need petrol now. I’ll take the next exit off the M6 and drive around looking for a garage while there’s still some light then try to find my way back onto the motorway. But it’s another ten miles to the next junction and the red light has been on a while. Fuck. I should have got off sooner.

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