Extract from Terminal One by Christopher Fewtrell

Chapter One - The Institution

I know there is something not right with me and that is why I’m in this place which I call The Institution. Hum, a hum, a bee hum? When your body shuts down it focuses the mind. Not necessarily in a good way like concentrating, but more like you are only able to take in one piece of trivia at a time. In my case it is a hum, a droning hum with a bit of a whirr to it. It is relentless. It is the noise of a very high-tech machine. It is a piece of equipment which I feel is there for my good. I don’t know what it is or what it does but I wonder whether it might be keeping me alive. I can’t see it but it might be that big shadowy lump I can see in the corner when I work myself up sufficiently to open my eyes.

I think I know why I'm here. I just can't touch it. It is ovoid, smells like cabbage and sounds like a fire engine. It hovers on the periphery so I can't name it. I really must find out what the thing is that the humming machine is saving me from. The strange thing is I haven’t got a clue how old I am.

I think I can feel my feet poking at the regimental hospital corners. The sheets feel rough on the skin, itching abrasion, tingling. But I'm acutely aware I might have no limbs at all, just phantom limbs, cocking a snoot at my unknown misfortune. An itch that could never be scratched.

The thought of lost limbs jolted my thoughts back to the 1980's when I'd first met the maelstrom who was Michelle. I wondered for the thousandth time where she'd got to? Now there was a girl who made light work of rehab after losing her leg.

Michelle had always told the same story about her leg and I remembered it like a film. Getting in her retaliation first. What she was saying was ‘I know I’ve only got one leg. You know I’ve only got one leg. It’s crap but I’m going to confront it and you head on’. She had been known to take off her prosthetic leg – more function than fashion—and swing it around her head in a crowded pub.

Michelle rapped her glass of Guinness on the bar to gain the attention of my girlfriend Laura and me.
“You see I was working as a lumberjack in British Columbia. Just a gap year thing, see the world, meet new people, you know the score. I poled up at this lumber camp and these enormous guys offered me a job”
“Do they have women lumberjacks or is it Jills?” I'd asked.
“I’m not really sure there are many but they did it as a wind-up, a dare. I wasn’t going to back down. I wanted to prove to them and myself that I was as good as them. They compete like mad to get the trees down fastest. The atmosphere is pure testosterone. My safety kit was a pair of thick gloves, there was no training, just a big McCulloch chainsaw thrust into my hands.”
“How could you handle that? They’re heavy aren’t they?” said Laura.
“With great difficulty. Around me trees were crashing. The saws were wailing like powerful motorbikes. I wasn’t about to give up easy but it was hard holding the chainsaw against the tree and the flashing of the shiny teeth and the chain was hypnotic.”

“Didn’t anybody offer to help?” said Laura.
“Did they hell. They just laughed and made stupid comments. Anyway I didn’t want to let the buggers beat me. But I wasn’t making a deal of headway and the night was closing in, snow falling steadily and the temperature dropped off a cliff. There was no knocking off time as such, it was like piece work, but the lumberjacks were packing up one by one and disappearing off to the social club for a burger and some beers.”

“So did you stop?” said Laura.
“You must be joking? I couldn’t stop without getting one single tree down. I couldn’t join them in the bar and look them in the eye. And I felt I was making some progress. I had taken a wedge out of the Douglas-fir and the saw was no longer snagging so bad. One last effort.”
“Another Guinness? Did you get it down then?” I'd said.
“Thanks. Yeah, I did but not quite as planned. All the trees they’d felled were in neat lines waiting for the monster tractors to take ‘em away. Mine just creaked, gave an almighty crack and toppled backwards pinning me to the snow on the forest floor.”
“Jeez, are you making this up?” I'd said feeling slightly queasy.

“Five tons of Douglas-fir was lying on top of my left leg and I could see that a spur branch had pierced clean through my thigh. The leg no longer felt part of me. I yelled for help at the top of my voice. I was sure they would hear me as my cries echoed around the slopes but they drowned in the wind. It was nearly dark by now and the temperature was still dropping rapidly. I wondered how long it would be before they missed me and came back to help. But who would bother? They’d not so much as written down my name when they took me on.”

“So who did save you then?” Laura looked even paler.
“I must have passed out because when I came around it was almost black with only the vaguest pinpoints of light, yellow like the eyes of wolves, down in the valley. The snow was still steadily falling and I was shivering violently in the cold. I knew I wouldn’t survive the night. I wondered if those Timber wolves could smell the blood?
Right next to me lay the McCulloch chainsaw and I reckoned that if I started it up someone might hear it and also it might provide some warmth.”

“Could you get it going?” I'd whispered.
“I got it started OK and when I did I knew immediately what I had to do. But it didn’t bleed as much as I thought it would. I knew the patches of black on the snow were really red. The smell of burning bone scented the air.”
“Christ Michelle!” We'd shrieked in unison.

“Then it was just a case of part hopping, part crawling down that mountain towards the Social Centre. I wasn’t gonna give up then. Next it was the helicopter; emergency surgery and months of painful rehab. There you go then, that’s my story.”

I knew this might possibly be all complete bollocks but generally speaking people bought the pup, ignoring all the rather dodgy aspects of the tale. Not believing that anybody could actually make up such a preposterous story.

Michelle, now she always was the perfect storm, but where had she gone and would I ever see her again?




Terminal One