As consciousness penetrated the black infinity in which he was immersed, Jed’s first impression was of pain. It felt as if a hammer was striking the inside of his forehead with relentless ferocity, whilst a more acute sense of agony gripped the back of his head - as if someone was trying to burrow their way in through his scalp.
He recognised the first pain as merely that of an excruciating hangover. The rancid taste in his mouth confirmed the presence of stale alcohol coating his teeth and gums. But it was the pain at the back of his head that confused him. Had he fallen? Had he been attacked?
Up till now, he had not subjected any part of his body to the test of movement. Now, slowly, he tried to connect with his limbs. He felt his legs move across some sort of dirt or gravel surface. His fingers responded but he felt new pain lacerate his shoulders and arms.
He paused, trying to recollect where he was. Eventually he tried opening his eyes. The pain in his forehead increased immediately forcing him to clamp his eyes shut again. Gingerly, he squinted from behind half closed lids. The place was in semi-darkness. He could make out a door in a wall from under which shards of light reached into the room.
He closed his eyes again and tried to remember. There had been a fight. Alice was there. She had been naked, screaming and hitting him. He remembered entering the house. He was holding his shotgun. He had wanted to teach them both a lesson.
Before that, he could remember sitting in his shed, watching them through the half pulled curtains as he eased his pain with whisky, seeing them as they laughed together and crying as he saw them kiss.
He carried the gun up the stairs. Was he just going to frighten them or kill them? He couldn’t remember. Bursting into her room, he had faltered. Then she was there - upon him - screaming. A hand jerked him from behind, wheeling his body round. He came face to face with Jack whose fist made splintering contact with Jed’s chin. As he spun round again and fell, Alice pinned him to the floor, spreading her naked body across his. He remembered briefly inhaling her perfume and thinking how beautiful she looked. She reached for his gun. He tried to pull it away. Then the shot; a deafening crack; more screaming; another blow to his head and a vague vision of snow falling from the sky across his aching body.
As memories of the previous night filtered slowly into his brain, he was filled with a deep sense of fear and misgiving. Had the shot hurt anyone? Alice had been on top of him. Had the shot killed her? If it had, he couldn’t live. His own death would be the only way out. Perhaps he had killed Jack. If he had, he was glad. No man could suffer what he had been made to endure without taking revenge. Would a jury exonerate him? Was there mitigation for a crime of passion? He doubted it. He would probably swing from the gallows.
He redoubled his efforts to move only to discover that his hands were bound together with cord. He managed to pull himself into a sitting position in spite of the pain.
Slowly he began to recognise where he was. His bike was leant against the opposite wall. Coal was piled in one corner. They had bundled him into the coal house at Hope Cottage - the very house that he’d built for him and Alice to spend their lives in together.
He began to sob silently, tears mixing with the coal dust that lightly coated his face. It was hard to recall the journey that had brought him here, a journey that had begun with tragedy back in 1917. He heard footsteps approaching outside. He would know the truth soon enough.
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