The dilapidated taxi pulled up outside the modest semi-detached house in the suburbs of Lancaster. It idled for a moment, exhaust fumes rising gently in the chilly morning stillness. It rocked gently, as something inside shifted about, then the passenger door nearest the kerb opened slowly.
The man who emerged from the cab into the crepuscular dawn was not young; nor was he old. However, frailty lent age to his slightly stooped frame, and the impression was heightened by the addition of the wheeled stick he leant upon for support. His dark hair was spattered with the first few strands of white; harbingers of more to come.
A casual passerby might have been forgiven for thinking that this man had seen much in his life, and they would have been correct in that assumption. They might also have assumed that the sights, and the memories, had conquered this man's will to live; to survive. And, in this, they would have been far, far wrong.
Lukas Madson paused to catch his breath, and to look around him. The quiet little cul-de-sac slumbered around him, as if unwilling to wake up and face the coming day. The heavy diesel sound of the taxi as it moved away was somehow an affront to the silent faces of the houses that looked down at him; accusing him of disturbing the peace.
The grumbling faded: became muted; was gone, and Madson was left alone with his brick-faced onlookers.
It took him a moment or two to locate the house he wanted. It was his first trip to Lancaster; not a place he had ever wanted to visit, for various reasons. But, his sister had moved here, when she had been asked to head up the accounts department in the engineering firm she worked for. She had called him several times since the move, asking him to visit, but, somehow, Madson had never managed to find the time. Or, he admitted to himself, the inclination. The accident had changed all of that.
Madson remembered little of the moments leading up to the accident, and nothing at all of the aftermath. He was told later, by the attending medics at the hospital, that he had been trapped in the wreckage of the carriage for almost four hours, while the emergency services had cut away the debris of the accident. The train had slid down an embankment after colliding with a crane, a massive chunk of plant equipment that had stalled on the level crossing.
It had been late at night, the train on the last run of the day, and not far from its terminus at Blackpool. The level crossing had been unmanned, and the crane..,
Nobody had, as yet, discovered any reason as to why the crane was there. The driver had been killed instantly, and his bosses had no knowledge of why he might have been moving the thing so late in the evening.
But, regardless of why, the result had been catastrophic. The last train from Preston to Blackpool, luckily almost empty at that time of night, had de-railed. Also luckily, it had chosen the right-hand side of the track to leave; had it gone to the left, it would have ploughed through a thin fence and into the rear of a line of houses that lined the track on that side. As it was, it shot down a small embankment, pulling its carriages along behind it, like a small child, its favorite toy on a string.
The engines forward momentum was halted by the earth on the far side of the embankment. The carriages were not so lucky. Propelled by their momentum, they crumpled around the engine, transforming, in a matter of seconds, from sleek metal vehicles into a contorted mass of twisted and tortured metal and glass.
Apart from the driver, who was also killed instantly, there had been only three passengers at that time of night. Of the three, only Madson had been found alive. As well as his left leg, which was completely smashed in several places, he had sustained three broken ribs, a shattered collarbone, and some serious injury to his head. He had awoken from a three day coma, to find himself a celebrity; the only survivor of the BL219 disaster. Of course, he told himself wryly, being a minor celebrity already hadn't helped matters any.
He realized that he had been standing in the street, wool-gathering, while the dim light surrounding him matured into a morning glow. He shook himself mentally, and began to move slowly in the direction of his sister's house.
Helen must have noticed his approach. By the time he had negotiated the gate, and begun his slow ascent of her drive, the door was open. She watched attentively as he labored against the mild incline; ready to move if she was needed, but knowing that any offer of help was the last thing he wanted.
Finally, he stood before her, striving to control his heavy breathing. "Hi sis,' his voice betrayed his breathlessness. "Fancy a house guest for a while?'
"I think I can find somewhere to put you.' Helen fought to control her own voice. It was hard for her. It tore her up inside to see her little brother reduced to what was little more than a cripple, a wasted image of the man she remembered and loved. "When did they let you out?'
"Yesterday evening. And they didn't exactly let me out. I volunteered to go.' He threw her a grin, and she saw, for the first time, that her brother was still in there, just waiting to be released. Her tears began to flow freely at last.
"Oh, Lukey,' Helen gasped. "You prat. How are you?' She held out one hand, and he took it gratefully. Helen pulled her twin brother into a hug, careful not to squeeze too hard.
"Not too bad. The leg's aching, just a little.' He admitted.
"Come on in.' Helen moved to the side, to allow passage into the house. "I'll call in and get the day off work. You want some breakfast?'