The Unusual Holiday
Looking back, the holiday in Scotland was a bit suspicious from day one. But things always seem clearer when you know how they turned out. It’s like flicking to the end of a book to see what the ending is. It all seems so obvious when you know how the story finishes – but when you’re there, in the thick of real life events, it’s not always so clear.
That’s how it was with our free holiday to Scotland. I think the fact that we’d won it out of the blue, rather than having to pay for it ourselves, made us much more willing to go along with what they said. After we’d got the ‘Congratulations’ email, we just took it as a fact we’d won a holiday and we’d soon be on our way.
It’s amazing what we accept on the strength of an email. If it looks official, has a nice logo and comes from an address that looks okay, we’ll just happily embrace it as we would a phone call or a face-to-face conversation. But many deceptions can lie behind an email, and we’re all too willing to be fooled. And so it was with our family.
I think I was probably the only one to notice it, and I can’t even remember if I pointed it out to Dad at the time. He called me over to take a look at the email on the morning that it arrived. Mum was at work already, David at school, and Harriet at playgroup. Just me and Dad. It looked just like you’d expect any holiday company email to look. A big banner packed with images of wonderful scenery and happy people. A signature at the bottom of the email that looked as if it was real, but which was really an image. A big, red ‘Congratulations’ sign at the top of the message. An 0800 ‘Call us if you have any queries’ telephone number in case of problems. Why would anybody be suspicious about that?
Except that company logo was troubling me. Where had I seen something similar to that before? It wasn’t a perfect match, mind you, but it was almost as if it had been copied from somewhere.
It took me a day or two before I figured it out. I’m sure that with some problems your mind works away on it in the background and then – at a completely random moment – you just get the answer. My moment of realization came while I was cleaning my teeth with my electric toothbrush, my mind idly skipping from thought to thought. I recalled where I’d seen that logo before. Not exactly the same, but not far off it. It was just like the metallic logo on Doctor Pierce’s tie.
I think I saw it more as a coincidence than a clue. With hindsight, it was a very strong clue. To be honest, it was a bit careless, an in-joke that could have given the game away. How many times have you seen something or somebody that reminded you of something else? If one logo looks fairly similar to another, it’s not a big deal. Unless you get caught up in the events that we did, of course.
Memory is a funny thing. Sometimes I can remember thoughts, events and feelings with absolute precision, as if all five senses captured and recorded every aspect of a particular experience. Other times I wonder if I was even there, my recall is so hazy. Even though I was only thirteen at the time, I can remember certain elements of Nat’s accident with remarkable clarity.
Bear in mind that I was processing the world through the eyes of younger child, not a sixteen-year-old. So many of the things that happened, although I didn’t fully understand them at the time, have taken on a new significance as I get older.
Three things happened that day that I still remember very clearly. On the day itself, and in the weeks and months that followed Nat’s death, these didn’t seem to have much significance. But now, when I rerun those events in my mind, things don’t seem to quite add up.
It’s similar to a complicated jigsaw puzzle. You can know where the corner pieces go, where all the straight edges line up and how colours, lines and shapes need to cluster together to create some sense of the main body. But until that final part slots into place, there is no standing back and seeing what you’ve got – the picture is incomplete until you have that last piece in place.
There were three pieces of this puzzle that I was unable to slot into place. It was as if they belonged to a different jigsaw. First of all, I’m pretty sure that black car was coming for both me and Nat.
It was only because I stepped back to pick up a coin on the pavement that it missed me. Secondly, Mum had been distracted by somebody talking to her, so she wasn’t really paying any attention to what was going on with the traffic.
That’s the only reason the car got anywhere near us – Mum’s attention was completely elsewhere at the time.
And last of all, I’m pretty certain that I saw Nat moving as the ambulance doors closed and we were parted for the last time.
Inside The Grey Office
Although she would be unable to recall these events, just like those who went before her, the woman was all too aware of what was going on before her memory was erased. To somebody watching from the outside, it would be clear that she was nervous, uneasy, concerned – but she was not being coerced or imprisoned in this room.
She was here of her own free will, but she would rather not be. She’d had to make a choice, and this was the best of a series of bad alternatives. Where there are no good options available, it’s amazing how the human mind can make the best of a bad thing. All of a sudden, a choice that in any other situation would look like madness, suddenly becomes the right thing to do. That’s how it was for this woman. Whatever the other options that she’d been given, it was better for her to be in this plain office.
It was a sensible thing to have been injected with a tiny electronic device that she didn’t understand, by a man she barely knew, in a place she’d never heard of. If this was the best choice, somebody observing these events would be forgiven for asking how bad the alternatives were.