It had been a few months since then. Winter had arrived, and the cold with it. But, being Britain, there was no sign of snow to even out the good/bad scales. Just rain. Lots and lots of rain.
Our family's luck hadn't improved much either. Mum's condition had steadily been declining, and it had been affecting all of us. I was becoming more despondent in my interviews, sometimes I would completely zone out and leave the interviewer asking questions to the wall, which didn't have much interest in conversation. Chris managed to find a few odd jobs, but the pay wasn't anything to celebrate over.
Dad was affected the worst. He'd known mum longer than anyone still alive, and the thought of losing her was almost too much to bear for him. I would arrive home to find him sitting on the sofa with bags under his eyes and a bottle of strong alcohol in his hand. This must of been having an effect on his work, but whenever Chris or I asked about it, he would say he was fine with a false smile and change the subject.
This carried on for a couple of weeks. We were hoping, praying that mum would make some miraculous recovery. But eventually, time catches up with all of us. It was a Tuesday, I'll never forget that. I was waiting outside an office for another interview when I recieved a text. It said that mum needed us at the hospital, and I had to drop whatever I was doing and go there now. I didn't even bother with a reply, I just put the phone in my pocket and ran down the hall just as the office door opened, leaving a bewildered interviewer watch his next application taking off around the corner.
I arrived back at the hospital in less time than I thought was possible. I left my jacket and tie in the car and went to room 26 on the first floor. Chris and dad were already there, as well as the doctor who I met the first time I came here. Mum was lying in her bed, she looked asleep, but I already knew otherwise. I didn't say anything. I just walked over, sat down in a chair next to the bed and cried into the bed covers.
The doctor was doing a good job maintaining his composure through all of this. "She passed away sometime last night. If it makes you feel better, her last hours wouldn't have been in suffering."
"It does," my dad replied, "Thank you."
The doctor said he would give us a moment, and promptly left. We just sat there, in silence, for what felt like hours. None of us knew what to say, but nothing needed to be said.
We held a funeral for mum the week after. All of our cousins attended, even my dad's sister came all the way down from Scotland. Nobody wanted to miss out on saying goodbye. It took place inside the church, and we had arranged to sing her favourite song: Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears. As we sang it, I forced every memory I had of my mother into my mind. Every time we had comforted each other, every time she had wiped my tears when I was a kid, every time I had told her, "I love you mum" and she would say the same. Near the end of the song, four men started walking down the isle carrying a coffin. I didn't know if she was in there, but she had said she wanted to be cremated.
As they placed the coffin on the tray to be cremated. I couldn't take it anymore. I went outside and just stood there. I didn't cry, I didn't do anything. I didn't know what to do. I noticed Chris coming out to comfort me. His eyes were red from the tears, and he gave me a look of complete understanding. As we gave each other a hug, I noticed smoke and ash coming out of the church's chimney.
Mum had always said she wanted to fly.
As if life wasn't satisfied enough from our misery, life only seemed to go downhill from there. I still hadn't found a job, the stereotype for my age-group was still performing perfectly. Chris had had some luck; he'd finally found a proper job. He had been accepted as a mechanic and fitter for an aeroplane company. He had always been interested in aircraft, and this was his perfect job, the pay wasn't half-bad either.
Dad on the other hand, was looking terrible. The funeral had pushed him over the edge, and he had begun to drink more now. It was having a clear effect on his work now. Dad was a self-employed gardener and builder, and his work was appreciated. But lately his attitude had started to decline, and his clients were getting annoyed. One day a client pushed it too far, and he attacked her. Her injuries didn't need any medical treatment, and she was kind enough not to press charges. But she was still a little shaken up, and news traveled fast in our area. Next thing we knew dad was losing clients left, right and centre. Nobody wanted to hire him, noone trusted him.
Not the best Christmas ever.
So, I guess it's no secret that life was pretty shit at the moment. Mum's dead, dad's out of a job and the only income is my brother's career. But fate wasn't satisfied just yet, oh no. Our savings started to dwindle. One job between three men just wasn't enough. Dad was still drinking heavily, but now he was buying anti-depressants by the bucketload. I was worried that the two combined would do serious damage, but it never happened. He did, however, become more aggressive. He started shouting at me and Chris - me in particular - and said that I was the reason we were losing money because I didn't have a job. He didn't mention his current position, he was either too angry or didn't count himself as fired.
This carried on into mid-January, but one day, it came to a boil. Dad arrived home that day from who knows where, absolutely pissed, both from alcohol and anger. I didn't know how he got home without crashing, he was so drunk. I wasn't sure what had set him off, but all his fury was directed at me. He started shouting all kinds of things; I don't really want to talk about it, but after he had had his rant, he went to the kitchen draw and grabbed a knife. This was new, and I was genuinely scared for my life now.
"Calm down dad" I said, "Put the knife back in the draw, and calm down."
"SHUT THE FUCK UP DOUGLAS!" Dad shouted back. He started taking blind swings at me, and I did my best to evade them. "You're the reason everything has happened!"
He took another swipe at me, and I could feel the blade cut the air as it missed my face by inches. Luckily, Chris had arrived after hearing the commotion, and tried to intervene. He went to wrap his arms around dad, but he ended up getting a deep slice in his arm. What happened next surprised me.
Upon seeing the blood flowing from my brother's arm, dad just stopped in his tracks. He dropped the knife, and almost fell over after realising what he'd done. Me and Chris lifted him up, and between us, we carried him through to the living room. When we set him down on the sofa, he just burst into tears. While Chris gave him some moral support, I went to the medical cabinet to get somthing for his arm.
On the journey back, I began to think. Maybe dad needs some time alone. After what happened tonight I certainly could. I thought some time outside in the wilderness might help me clear my head, somewhere away from here. Perhaps I could go south, to the coast. Apparently the sea air does you good. I was pondering this as I placed a bandage around Chris' arm. I was still thinking as I went back into the hall, telling Chris I was going to be in my room for a bit.
I grabbed a road map and took it up to my room. I never would have traveled this far from home on my own, but I would be alright, all I had to do was follow the roads and I would be fine. I went into the hall and looked through the list of Ordnance Survey maps in the bookshelf, eventually finding one the showed the area near Portsmouth. That seemed far enough. I spent the next few hours plotting a route to where I was going, paying more attention to how I would get to the coast rather than where I would go when I got there; I could make that up when I arrived.
I was surprised by how little I was disturbed during this time. My dad was still downstairs recovering, and Chris probably thought I wanted to be alone. He knocked on my door at one point, forcing me to hide the maps under my bedsheets, but he didn't come in. I simply told him I would be alright, and he left it at that. After plotting a route to Portsmouth, I went up to the attic and grabbed a pack I used to use for expeditions. I would wait until the others were in bed before I would pack.
Right, time to get to work.
I started grabbing the essentials I would need for the walk: a tent, sleeping bag, boots, you get the idea. I put on one of my favourite fleeces and a pair of jeans; I didn't have any hiking trousers. I also grabbed enough food to last me for a few days, and some cash in case I needed to go to a town. After I got all that there were only a few other things I wanted.
Dad had fallen asleep on the sofa, so this gave me the perfect opportunity to go to the drawer in his room. When I opened it, I took out my dad's old survivalist knife. I say old, but he barely used it, and kept it in pristine condition. It was about eight inches long, with a black blade that was serrated on one side. I was lucky dad hadn't thought of this when he attacked me. I didn't want to go into a town if I didn't need to, so the knife would be useful if I decided to hunt for food. Next, I took it's sheathe out of the drawer, placed the knife inside, and strapped it to my left leg.
There were only two other things I wanted now. They would certainly keep me entertained if I needed to stop and got bored. I went back to my room and opened my bedside drawer, where I grabbed my Ipod. I didn't have a passion for any particular genre of music, I liked anything with a nice beat. I had stuff ranging from classical piano music, to electro and dubstep. I put that in the top pocket of my pack. Finally, I went to my cupboard. There, I picked up my pride and joy: my Bear Encounter 2012 compound bow.
I gained an interest in archery when I was ten. I used to play a medieval video game, and I always wondered why people would get close with swords when they could just use a bow and arrow. Of course, we have guns today, but when I first went to an archery lesson, the bow felt so natural. It was one of the few things I was really good at. I instantly loved the sport, the way I would ignore everything else when I pulled the string back, the feeling of satisfaction when I got a bullseye. I managed to pick up on what to do so fast, even I was amazed at how quickly I learned. When I was 15, my parents decided to place me in a competition for the county. I thought my skills were only average, but it turned out I was way ahead of everyone else in my age group, and easily won first place.
Next thing I knew I was competing in tournaments across the country, and by the time I was 20, I already had half a dozen trophies on my shelf.
I took the bow out of the cupboard and slided it down the side of the pack. I took the string and put it in the top pocket with my Ipod, along with the eyepatch I used when aiming longer distances. I also grabbed my arrows - I figured 30 would be more than enough - and placed them in a sealed quiver strapped to my pack.
So, all set. I wandered down the stairs as quietly as I could, making sure not to wake dad, and grabbed a peice of paper from the kitchen. I set it down on the table and wrote a quick note:
I think we both need some time away from each other. I'll be gone for a few days, hopefully that'll help you recover.
Chris, give dad support, and try and get him off the drink.
Just as I set down the note, I looked over to the fridge and saw all the pictures of our family stuck on it. I thought it would be nice to take one with me; yes, dad did just try to stab me, but I wasn't going to give up on him just yet. He was my father after all, I wouldn't exist if it weren't for him and mum. I went over to the fridge and noticed one picture in particular: the whole family, mum, dad, Chris and me sat in the garden posing for a group photo. Yeah, that would be a nice one. I plucked it off the door and placed it into an empty pocket on my pack. If I was going to be away from home, I could use some form of reminder to help me relax.
Well, I had done everything I needed to do, and walked towards to the back door. I gave Nicole a soft stroke as she slept, then went outside, and locked the door behind me. After that I got in my car, put the road map on the passenger seat, left the village, and headed south.
"Bye dad. I'll see you in a few days."
It was about midnight now, barely anyone was on the road apart form the occasional delivery truck. Even the motorway was practically empty. As I drove, I wondered if I was doing the right thing by leaving my family. I quickly forced it out of my mind, I was already doing this, there was no going back. Besides, I would feel better when I got out of the car and started walking.
The journey took about three hours. I had never driven for that long in one sitting, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. As I got close to the coast, I started to smell the sea. I took another look at the map, I was pretty far from any towns or cities, so I decided that this would be a good place to stop. I pulled into a lay-by, grabbed my pack from the rear seats and locked the car. It looked pretty empty here, so I wasn't worried about it getting stolen.
I grabbed the country map from my pack, looked at it, and planned a route to take. After I had found a path that was a couple dozen miles long, and would take me a few days to complete, I put the map around my neck on a cord, and started walking.