by Craig Saunders




The child's name was George. His dad heard George's scream as whoever was driving the van - he couldn't see from where he was - snatched his only child. For two, three valuable seconds the dad didn't have the wherewithal to move, let alone cry out. His feet suddenly turned to concrete.

A woman screamed and that seemed to break his feet into motion. His feet flew and he ran faster than he'd run since he'd been in school, harder than a man of thirty-five who'd never exercised in his life should. His heart pounded from the sudden run, and from the fat in his arteries, and from sheer horror.

Fuck, fuck, fuck...

Thought was, by and large, pushed down until there was nothing but primal fear, though one thought flashed on and off in his burning brain with startling clarity - his mother will kill me.

The van turned out of the supermarket car park and onto a short one-way road leading to a roundabout, which in turn led to a slip road, then the motorway. The dad could feel his son slipping away.

His feet slapped on the hard tarmac, his shoes ill-suited to running on any surface. His shins were already hurting, his legs tired and his heart thudding so hard that his vision was wavering.

The van - red van (read the license plate!) - 'Archer and Sons Painters and Decorators' on the side - fuck...fuck...

The van was hitting the slip road. Pulling away fast.

Why hadn't he gotten into the car to chase the van?

His phone was in the car. Can't call the police.

His mind was ticking as fast as a mind can when it's largely starved of oxygen. He ran along the slip road, though, because George was in that van and people didn't take kids for a joke.

He ran up the incline of the slip road as the van hit the motorway, joining the traffic. The dad ran, pointlessly, he knew, because he could never, ever catch the van. A car came behind him. The driver of the car wasn't really looking where he was going, because he was on his mobile phone calling his girlfriend.

The car clipped the dad. The car was doing 53 miles per hour precisely. It didn't brake, because the driver didn't see the dad. The dad was on the left side of the road. The car's left wing caught the dad's right leg. His right leg snapped instantly and he was thrown in the air. The driver of the car thought he'd hit a bird. He dropped his phone in the foot well. The phone fell under the driver's heel. His heel slipped as he tried to brake. He looked down, searching for his phone, and joined the traffic on the motorway.

A baker's van, high-sided, hit the rear of the car, slid sideways, and took out a Mini, which hit the central reservation, bounced, and took out two cars behind it.

The red Archer and Sons van was gone.

George's dad lay on the slip road screaming in agony because his leg was broken badly, his skull cracked from the fall, and his son gone.

From the corner of one bloodied eye he saw the wreck on the motorway.

He saw a Jaguar going too fast hit the pile-up. He saw the car in front - a Vauxhall, flip end over end with the rear impact, and metal fly into the air, forty yards away. He didn't see the metal land, because it tore the back of his head away before the piece of metal (just a muffler...) bounced three times and then rolled to a stop, a total of 120 yards from the wreckage.

A green van with military plates and a biohazard symbol on the back slowed before it reached the smouldering carnage. The car behind didn't. It smashed the back of the van wide open.

 Fire licked at the front of the pile-up. The fire spread quickly, from the front of the pile-up, driven in the wind and spilled fuel, toward the green military van.

The flames caught fast. The driver, stunned, with blood pouring down his face, didn't react.

A body, triple-bagged and contained within a steel case that should have met stringent regulations but didn't, burned.

And in the ashes that rose from that fire, the dead days began.