Between Now and Then
It’s 1991, and a group of English football fans are driving across Belgium; their trip takes them through the site of a former battle, and that’s when a strange sequence of events begins. For Dennis and Allan, colleagues who cordially dislike each other, this means journeying further still – into what appears to be the past, and into the lives of two men who travelled this way 75 years earlier...
As the fog stole further and further over the road the van's progress slowed until it seemed as if they were driving through thick cotton wool, and the sounds of Allan's sleep grew steadily less contented; he could now be heard muttering indistinguishably from time to time, but the only word ever really recognisable was the infrequent exclamation 'no!' Clearly, whatever reality his dreams were presenting him with, it was a troubled one.
Dennis, in less sympathy with the man even than usual, hunched further into his seat and tried to imagine himself somewhere else, in a far more congenial setting, amongst people whose company he actually enjoyed. That would have been easier, perhaps, if only he could actually remember anything that was not this road, this trip, this group of people: Poland and the match seemed to have been an immeasurable eternity ago; England, further away still.READ MORE
"This is hopeless," Gus murmured, almost to himself. "I can't see a bloody thing. At this rate it'd be quicker if we had a man out front with a red flag."
"I can scout ahead with a torch, if you think it'll do any good," offered Brian obligingly, but even he didn't sound especially convinced.
"Nice idea, thanks, but I think it would be too dangerous. If anything came along in the opposite direction you'd have had it before you knew where you were."
"All right. Although we haven't seen any other traffic for a while. It really feels as if we're out in the middle of nowhere, doesn't it?"
"Well, yes," Gus was obliged to admit. "But on the other hand, a road must lead somewhere - otherwise there'd be no point in having a road at all!"
As a piece of logic this was straightforward enough, Dennis conceded, but not altogether unarguable. There was still the nagging possibility, for example, that they were on a farm track or quarry road, and that they could find themselves fetching up unannounced at some Belgian farmhouse door and being chased off with a double-barrelled shotgun. Either that, or tipping over the edge of a quarry in the dark and not being found until the men turned up for work on Monday morning. Besides, Gus knew as well as he did himself that a road could still be there long after whatever it had once led to was gone. There were Roman roads all over Europe that started and ended apparently at random in the middle of the countryside, where every trace of the communities they had served had been swallowed up by time, and the road they were on now was beginning to feel like one of those - as if it somehow existed in isolation, outside time, and they were the only travellers ever to venture along it. He might even have suggested out loud that it was a sort of Flying Dutchman of roads, except that he knew he would be shouted down by smartartses in a hurry to remind him that they'd left Holland behind them hours before.
"Oh, fuck it, just stop this," said Allan, from the rear of the bus. "I mean it, pull up here for fuck's sake! It isn't safe to go any further!"
"What's the matter with him?" Brian turned his head to see what was going on, and so did Dennis; there was little detail visible in the seat behind, however, just a bundled figure lifting its head unquietly. Gary and Greta were stirring, and an unsympathetic murmur of complaint issued from their general direction.
"Nothing," pronounced Dennis, dismissively. "Just talking in his sleep."
"It's not safe," Allan insisted in the same quiet tone, half reason, half panicked insistence. "We need to stop right now!"
"Go back to sleep, Allan, and stop being a pillock." Really, it was very difficult to take this sort of thing seriously; they had all had far too long a day already, they still had no idea where they were going to sleep tonight, and pratting about in Belgian countryside in the fog wouldn't be any sane person's idea of a good time.
"Yeah," drawled Gary, "just shut the fuck up, will you? Haven't we got enough bloody problems without that?"
"Let me out then," returned Allan, more urgently. "For fuck's sake, just let me out!"
Something in his rising agitation flipped a switch in Dennis's head; childhood trips in his grandfather's car, the one with the smelly red leather seats, and Dennis's obnoxious little brother sitting for hours at a stretch with his stomach heaving, clutching dementedly at the refuge represented by a plastic bowl. "Oh shit, I think he's going to be sick. Fuck it, Gus, we'll have to stop!"
Heaving a theatrical sigh of exasperation, Gus obediently stood on the brake; there was nowhere close at hand where they could safely pull off the road, which in any case was barely wider than the track of the Toyota's wheels, but the absence of other traffic should at least mean they would be all right where they were as long as they were relatively quick. "Dennis, open the door and let the bugger out; he's not throwing up in my bloody bus if I can help it!"
Dennis, galvanised into action, fumbled with the catch, pushing the side door open and allowing thick fog into the van's interior. It was cold, wet; it wrapped itself around their faces like the sticky tendrils of candy-floss
"Come on you," he commanded Allan, "out! There's a nice big ditch out here; you can chuck up into that!" And so there was, six feet wide and full of shining black water, on the surface of which the mist was floating lightly.
Dennis virtually bundled Allan out shivering onto the road, pushed him out the way a jump-master pushes a reluctant parachutist; would have kicked him up the backside, too, if only their respective positions in the van had allowed it.
"You stupid sods, don't you understand? Can't you see what's happening? The bastards are waiting for us, further up the road!"
"What? Who are? You're not making any sense, you wazzuck; there's nobody waiting for us; nobody even knows we're here!" Which was not, now that he came to think about it, quite the comforting sentiment Dennis had been intending to impart, and far from calming Allan all he had really succeeded in doing was further disconcerting himself.
But Allan was too distracted to continue the conversation on any level, comforting or not. He was staring around himself wildly, as if trapped and desperately seeking an escape route. Then without preamble he turned and, taking only a couple of steps by way of a run-up, quickly leaped away across the drainage ditch beside the road and scrambled up the bank at the far side of it, his long legs carrying him off at high speed into the uncharted darkness of some anonymous farmer's field until he was completely swallowed up from sight inside a dense band of the all-enveloping wet fog.
"Oh shit," groaned Dennis, staring after him with his brain calcified into total inactivity and a sinking sensation in his stomach. "What the bloody hell are we supposed to do now?"COLLAPSE
"Sad, funny and poignant by turns, this is a gentle romance by one of my favourite m/m authors . Sharply-drawn characters and a touch of the supernatural elevate it above most offerings in this genre"
9th in Best Gay Paranormal Romance - Rainbow Awards 2013
Length: 46,000 words/168 pages