Falling

The body hit the bonnet of the car and slid up onto the windscreen. Jessica screamed as Daniel swore and slammed on the brakes. The body rolled forward and out of sight in front of the car as the engine stalled. For a moment the only sound was the ticking of cooling metal as they stared, horror-struck, through the windscreen.

“Jesus,” said Daniel, eventually. “Jesus, I didn’t see him. Where did he come from? I didn’t see him. Jesus.”

Jessica released her seatbelt and stepped out into the night air. A pang shot down her neck and into her shoulder. Whiplash, probably, but apart from that she was uninjured. What about the stranger? She crept to the front of the car, praying to see a deer or a sheep. Instead, sprawled across the road lay a man, naked, still, eyes closed. A detached part of her mind noted the motes floating in the beam of the headlights like fireflies in slow motion. It wondered why a man would be out here, at this time of night, naked. It wondered where he had come from. All the time, the real Jessica was screaming in her head, ‘Don’t be dead. Please God, don’t be dead.’

“Jesus. Is he -?” Daniel spoke beside her, staring at the body.

“I don’t know.”

“I didn’t see him. He just appeared out of nowhere. I didn’t see him.”

The stranger opened his eyes. Jessica almost wept with relief. He turned and looked at them, his face unreadable. Then he started to rise.

“No!” shouted Jessica, running forward. “Don’t try to move. Daniel, call an ambulance. Where does it hurt?”

The stranger stood. Jessica grabbed his arm. He shook himself, and motes of light fell from his hair like incandescent dandruff. He looked over his shoulder, craning to see his back.

“Your back? Does it hurt? You shouldn’t be standing.”

The stranger looked down at Jessica and smiled. Smile was too trivial a word for it. It was like an infant’s first smile, guileless, and Jessica felt strangely embarrassed by it.

“Daniel,” she said, turning from the heart-melting smile. “Dan! Call an ambulance.”

“No.”

“What?”

“We can’t, Jess. Not now. Not this evening.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Well, look at him, He’s not injured. Not a scratch on him. He’s standing up. There’s no need for an ambulance, not really.”

“What? Don’t be so stupid. Call the ambulance.”

“See, the point is, they’ll send the police too, and I’ve already got points on my licence. They’ll take it away for sure this time, maybe even put me inside.”

“What? It wasn’t your fault.”

“No, but if they breathalyse me that won’t matter, will it?”

“But you were on Coke all evening. I saw.”

Daniel looked at his feet. “Paul might have slipped a brandy or two into it.”

“Oh, you idiot. After last time? You complete idiot. So what? You want to just leave him out here? Like this?”

“Listen. We’ll take him home, yeah? Listen, buddy. Where do you live? Home? Yeah? Where do you live?”

The stranger turned his smile onto Daniel.

“We can’t leave him,” said Jessica. “I mean, look at him. He’s concussed, or simple, or something. We can’t just leave him. He needs a hospital.”

“Okay, okay. Listen. We’ll, um, yeah, we’ll take him home. Give him a bed. He’ll be right as rain tomorrow, yeah? And if he’s still, um, confused, we’ll take him into hospital then.” Jessica looked doubtful. “Come on, love. If I lose my licence, then I lose my job, the house, everything we’ve worked so hard for. Hey, fella. Yeah, you. Come on, we’ll get you home, yeah? A nice comfortable bed. Well, a couch, at least.” He took off his coat and draped it over the man’s shoulders. “You’ll be right as rain in the morning, you’ll see. Come on.” And he led the unprotesting stranger to the car.

++++

Jessica looked down on the stranger. It was impossible to judge how old he was. He was an adult, last night had left no doubt on that subject, but his face was childlike. There were no worry frowns, no laughter lines. His face was as smooth and as perfect as an air-brushed model’s. His hair, too long for her tastes, haloed his head on the pillow. Who was he? What had he been doing in the middle of nowhere with no clothes?

He opened his eyes, glanced around and fixed her with an unselfconscious stare.

“Good morning,” she said, smiling. “How are you feeling this morning? How – are – you – feeling?” She felt as though she were talking to her mother again, just before the end, when even basic communication was a struggle. “Are you hurt?”

“Hurt?” The stranger’s eyes unfocussed. “Hurt.” It seemed a novel concept to him. “No.”

“Oh, you speak English. Oh, that’s a relief. We weren’t sure. Last night, you were, um, a bit quiet. We weren’t sure. So, you’re okay, yes? No pain? Good. Well, look, I’ve got you some of Dan’s clothes, a pair of his jeans that don’t fit him anymore, and a T-shirt. We’ll get you dressed and get some breakfast down you, shall we?”

She knew she was gabbling, but his silent smile seemed to cause a vacuum that she felt compelled to fill with noise. The stranger threw off the blanket and rose from the couch.

“Oh, my!” Jessica spun round, blushing like a teenager, and held out the clothes behind her. “Yes, well, you get dressed, and I’ll be through there, the kitchen, getting breakfast. Come through when you’re ready.” She dropped the clothes and strode away from the naked man.

++++

The coffee jug had just finished filling when he walked into the kitchen. The trousers were too wide at the waist, and hung over the belt. They were too short too, so an inch of muscled stomach peeked between the trousers and the shirt. He wasn’t wearing the socks she’d given him. He looked like a teenager outgrowing his clothes.

“It’s good you’re up. We were so worried, Dan and I. Do you remember any of it at all?”

“Remember? Yes. No. Bits.”

“Really?” She frowned, concerned. “I think maybe we should get you checked out later. You might have a bit of concussion. Still, that can wait till after breakfast. I’m Jessica, by the way. Jess.”

The stranger stared at her impassively.

“So, what do we call you? What’s your name?”

He thought for a moment. “Azmekhail?” he said at last.

“Az – really? Gosh. What is that? Russian? Polish?”

“No.”

It wasn’t that he was unfriendly, he just didn’t seem to pick up on when a question was implied. Jessica gave up on the interrogation.

“Well, okay. Anyway, I expect you’re hungry. We don’t have anything much in the way of a cooked breakfast, I’m afraid. I’m trying to bring down Dan’s cholesterol. I hope muesli’s okay. Here, sit, sit. How do you take your coffee?”

He shook his head and shrugged.

“Well, let’s start with white without sugar, shall we? You look sweet enough as it is.” She blushed again. “Me, I’m useless till after my first cup.” She put the cup in front of him and then took the seat opposite. “Careful, it’s hot.”

He took a sip. His reaction was dramatic. He spit it out again, shaking his head and spitting as though he wanted to remove all trace of it from his tongue. He looked like a puppy dog that had just tried to chew a chilli. Jessica couldn’t help but laugh, then she rushed to the sink and filled a glass with water.

“Not to your taste, huh?” Azmekhail grabbed the glass and downed it in one. “Where do you come from, that you’ve never tasted coffee? My God, even Canada can rustle up a decent brew. You want another?” Azmekhail nodded, so she took the glass and refilled it for him.

“Hurt,” he said.

“You hurt, honey? Where?”

“No. You hurt. There.”

He pointed to Jess’s shoulder. It was true, the seatbelt had dug into her shoulder. There had been a vicious bruise there this morning, coupled with a stiff neck.

“Oh, it’s nothing. We’re more concerned about you.”

“No.” He stood and moved around the table.

“What? What are you doing?” Jessica tried to turn to keep facing him, but a jolt of pain ran down her neck.

Standing behind her, he pushed her hair to one side, so delicately he might have been moving gossamer. He placed the palm of his hand flat on top of her shoulder. Immediately Jessica felt the warmth spreading, coupled with a tingling sensation, just the pleasant side of tickling.

“Really, you don’t have to. Oh!” The sensation intensified, like the first stirrings of lovemaking, back when Dan had been more attentive, more selfless in his moves. “God, that’s, that’s, oh God.” She placed her hand on his, leaning her head, trying to trap his hand there, wanting the sensation to last forever.

Too soon he gently removed his hand. Jess let her hand fall onto the spot his hand had been, trying to trap the sensation in her memory.

“Oh boy. I’ll tell you something, if you’re looking for a job, you’ll work for life in this neighbourhood. Wow.”

“It’s better.”

“What?”

“Your shoulder.”

Jessica flexed her shoulder, then carefully rolled her head.

“Oh my God, you’re right. It is better. How did you do that?” She massaged her shoulder. There wasn’t the slightest hint of a bruise under her probing fingers. She stood and turned. He didn’t step back, so she was almost touching him.

“You’re not, you know, normal. I mean, not in a nasty way. You’re special, aren’t you.”

He didn’t answer. Instead, he beatified her with a smile.

“Do you remember what happened. Before we, um, before we met, last night?”

“I am remembering.”

“Wonderful.” She heard her lips say it, but in her heart she dreaded it, because it meant he would remember where his home was, where his folks were. “Listen, this sounds silly, but last night, you weren’t standing in the road, were you.”

“No.”

“I was watching. Dan, okay, he’d had a drink, but I was watching the road. You weren’t there, and you weren’t by the side of the road either.”

“No.”

She reached a trembling hand out and touched his cheek. He responded by echoing her gesture. His touch was as gentle as Dan’s had been when they married.

“You looked like you fell straight down. Straight down onto the car from, from up.”

“Yes.”

It sounded so silly, but what other explanation could there be? She recalled the violence of the impact, yet the lack of injuries, the tiny specks of light that looked like pieces of glass when none of the lights had been broken.

“Are you an angel?”

Azmekhail lifted his other hand and cupped her face. His fingers sought out her vertebrae as his thumbs caressed behind her ears.

“Yes.”

She reached out, holding onto his muscular waist.

“An angel from heaven.”

“Yes.” His thumbs ran along her jaw line, tingling as they moved.

“What were you doing here, out on the road?”

His thumbs moved down over her throat.

“Falling,” he said, then squeezed.

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About snodlander
Snodlander is the nom de plume of Bob Simms. He is an IT trainer, but it's not as glamourous as it sounds. When he's not enthralling classes with adventures through SQL Server, he writes, draws and drinks his own home-brew. Buy his novel on Amazon Kindle at The Young Demon Keeper, It's 74p, for crying out loud!

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