This is a new novel I am serialising every Friday on this website. It is the story of Nicola who has died. In the first two chapters it is she who is talking. She does not how or why she died. Gradually, as the story continues, the mystery unravels.
‘British Airways announce their flight BA 1387 to London Heathrow. Would all passengers go immediately to Gate 132 which will shortly be closing.’
It may have been the announcement that has woken me. I open my eyes and I am standing in what I assume is an airport terminal. Airport? What am I doing in an airport? Have I been sleep-walking? How did I get here? I think it’s Manchester Airport judging by all the signs all around me. I try to remember what I was doing that could have resulted in me blacking out. Was it booze? It must have been. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve woken up on somebody’s sofa, but waking up in an airport terminal is just ridiculous. And standing up too. That really is a first. I don’t get it. How can I suddenly be awake standing like an idiot with people rushing past me, laden with luggage and looks of grim determination. Only people on what is laughingly called a holiday can look like that. I suppose that might explain why nobody is taking the slightest notice of a strange women looking vaguely lost near the British Airways check-in desks.
It is then I realise I don’t have a hangover too. Now that really is weird. I experimentally turn my head to the left and then to the right and just for once it does not feel as though my brain is being dislodged.
At times like this I can usually blame my best friend Evie and her liking of a ‘session’ which invariably involves a bottle of Vodka and other sundry concoctions. ‘Sessions’ invariably take place in her flat during which she entertains me with tales of the various boyfriends she enthusiastically treats with total contempt.
I have known Evie for what feels like centuries. We were at primary school together and she followed me through secondary school and then the same university. I like her because she is totally off the wall and doesn’t give a monkeys what anybody thinks. She dyes her hair a tasteful blue and dresses like a grown-up punk complete with a scrapyard adorning her face.
Like me, she is in her early thirties but unlike me she is glamorous in an unintended and almost accidental way. She could dress in rags and still be desirable. I have to work at it and put on the warpaint, but I manage to turn the odd head now and then. Evie – Evie Gardner to give you her full name – works for a local newspaper as a feature writer.
Have I told you who I am? Probably not but I suppose I might as well. My name is Nicola Westbury and I work as a researcher for BBC TV in Manchester. I live in a tasteful semi in Tarporley left to me by my gran with my wonderdog Sonny, a Golden Retriever.
I also have a live-in boyfriend called Alex Thompson who I thought I was in love with a few months ago but he is becoming increasingly possessive and annoying which is why I escape now and then for a ‘session’ with Evie. It goes without saying that he hates that as much as he hates her. It is entirely mutual, you will be delighted to hear, and she frequently refers to him as ‘that boring slob you live with.’
Anyway, that’s enough about Evie for the time being. I must try and concentrate and figure out how I got here and, more to the point, how I am going to get home. I realise I do not have my bag which has my purse, which has my money, which has my plastic. I sigh. I really am a stupid bitch sometimes. How could I go walkabout without my bag. That really is the height of boneheadedness.
I do, however, have my phone which is my trouser pocket. I’m wearing a Paisley belted blazer with green trousers. No, I don’t bloody care if it’s in bad taste. It’s what came out of the wardrobe first yesterday, or was it the day before? No, it can’t be the day before for God’s sake. I can’t have been comatose for that long surely.
I decide to ring Evie, or if she isn’t around, my sister Pam who will moan like hell if she has to come and get me but will anyway and make me suffer every humiliating mile back to my place. So, I drag out my mobile and press the on switch, but nothing happens. The screen stays frustratingly blank. I give it an encouraging shake, but it stares back at me in that mocking way electric things do when they don’t work. Why doesn’t the bloody thing work?
This really isn’t my morning. Having said that, I’m not sure it is morning. I look at my watch. That appears to have stopped as well. What is going on?
I haven’t been taking too much notice of my surroundings while in deep muse mode but now I appear to be in a lengthy queue all pointing in one direction (as queues normally do!). How have I managed to join a queue? I hate queues. I would rather have my toenails torn out by a duck billed platypus than line up. . . for anything.
Everyone around me is moaning; to each other, to the people around them, and to anyone in a uniform within spitting distance. All we need is a baby to start crying, and sure enough one nearby obliges and is almost immediately joined by another obviously keen to add to the air of dismal frustration.
I smile grimly. This is fun and it’s likely to be fun for quite a long time judging by the length of the queue and the speed of the shuffle as it heads towards the promised land which appears to be the entrance to the security hall I can just about spot in the far distance.
It is evidently the start to the British season of holiday hell when everyone is grimly determined to enjoy themselves despite everyone else having the same idea, which is to lie on a beach for a fortnight and demand bacon, egg, and chips irrespective of the country they have inflicted themselves on. What happened to the ‘good old days’ when you just took your bucket and spade to spend a week in Rhyl? OK, so it was usually cold and invariably rained but at least there weren’t any queues.
I slip out of the queue and spot a pair of payphones in the distance and head for them. Time to give the bad news to Evie, or good news, depending on your point of view I suppose.
Since I don’t have any money, I will have to make a reverse charge call to Evie. I’m sure she won’t be too put out. After all, I would do the same for her if she was in trouble, which she frequently is. I have lost count of the number of times I have had to ‘rescue’ her from the clutches of an unwanted barfly, as we have come to call those irritating men who lean up against a bar all day and who think that any passing woman is an easy target.
Anyway, I arrive at a pay phone and reach for the receiver but then something really weird happens. I don’t seem able to get hold of it. At first, I think there must be something wrong with my eyes and I that my hand is going to the wrong place. But it isn’t. I slowly reach for it again and it goes right through the receiver as though it isn’t solid. I stare at it. I want to scream in exasperation, but I can’t because I have no breath. In fact, I am not breathing at all.
We just take breathing for granted, don’t we? It’s not something we are really conscious of doing which may be why I hadn’t noticed before. So, if I’m not breathing does that mean I am dead? The thought fills me with horror. How can I be dead? Dead people know they are dead and not only that, they must also know why they died and where they died as well. And I just don’t. I don’t remember anything before I ‘woke-up’ here in Manchester Airport.
I stare at my hands. They look real enough and feel real enough, just like they did when I was alive. Well, OK so I’m dead. What am I supposed to do? There must be a reason I am here. At a guess it must have something to do with the way I died. Perhaps it will be shown to me in time. Not having been dead before I have no idea what is supposed to happen when you die. Like most people I have vague ideas about heaven and hell and why we are destined to go to one or the other. I wonder which category Manchester Airport is in! I daresay people in the queues would have a set view about that.
I realise with a jolt that I am a ghost, a spirit, an apparition and that I must be here for a reason. My mission must be to find out what that is.