A Crash And A Misstep
Sixty MPH. Sixty-five MPH. Seventy MPH. A screaming crowd, banners waving, flags fluttering, the wind gushing through his hair. He tightened his grip and put all of his effort into it. Thirty metres. Twenty-five metres. Twenty metres. He was nearly there! In a few moments, he would be the winner of a worldwide motorbike racing championship! Three seconds. Two seconds. One second!
Then he stopped. His bike came to a complete halt mere inches away from the finish line. No-one seemed to notice his dilemma, no-one seemed to care that he couldn't move. Other racers, other bikers, his opponents flew past him on either side. Sat dead in the centre of the track, watching as his dreams were demolished around him as if they were houses and the other racers were bulldozers, Joseph Turner could only look at one thing: a single sharp-edged rock which stared at him, piercing his soul with the point. What could he do? Joseph felt trapped, felt as if he couldn't move a muscle and that if he tried, the rock would grow, making itself a grotesque, personified version of a simple stone. It would slice him to pieces, ripping his skin, piercing his veins, his arteries, his body.
Then he awoke to the sound of his alarm chirping at him, the beeps gradually becoming louder and louder with each passing second. Joseph stared at the spiral pattern on his ceiling, sweat running down the sides of his face, forming a pool of salty water at the edge of his pillow, creating an outline of his body on the mattress cover. His bedsheets would stick to him if he didn't move; he was unbearably hot. Silencing his alarm clock, hearing the beeps dissipate into nothingness as he felt around for his phone, Joseph grabbed it when his palm touched the edge of the screen. He unplugged it from the charger, pulling it to his face, hoping that the alarm clock was broken and that he could have another hour or so to sleep. Half-past seven in the morning. Time to get up.
Joseph slid out of bed with a sigh and immediately headed to the bathroom. If he had learned anything since the nightmares had started, it was that he needed to have a shower afterwards otherwise he would spend the day revolting his co-workers with the smell of his dried sweat.
The nightmares started a few months ago, only a few days after the accident. There was no warning, no sign at all that he was going to be terrorised, and suddenly he was having visions about the crash that had caused him to lose a major tournament. It wasn't a horrific crash. It wasn't as if he was left with a fractured spine and a wheelchair, though he was left with a broken toe, a fractured wrist, several bruises, cuts and grazes and a severely damaged self-esteem. The doctors had instructed him to stay away from racing for a few weeks while his injuries healed, and after two weeks he was called back to the hospital for a check-up. Though he was told that he could return to racing if he wished to do so and despite the fact that Joseph wanted nothing more than to redeem himself, to win multiple races within the next year, slapping anyone who was laughing at him, he couldn't bring himself to do it. The thought of racing again made his spine tingle, it made his fingers stiffen and it made him distort his face in a way which hurt sometimes. It wasn't as if he had developed a trauma from something as trivial and as common as a minor crash, but it was as if he had managed to dispel any urge to race from his mind and his internal instinct. Joseph Turner, a previously fairly known racer, expected to win the tournament and proceed to participate in worldwide championships, had given up.
The cold water hit his face, ran down his neck at a speed unfathomable to humans before it covered his body. Joseph ran his hands through his hair, shivering slightly as the water almost burned him from being so cold, frostbite gnawing at his hands and feet, slowly creeping towards the rest of his body. Moments later, the water started to warm up and was a pleasant temperature within seconds, steam starting to rise and condensate the glass doors of the shower.
With his eyes closed and his mind racing, Joseph started to think about the day that laid before him. He had a report due by the end of the day and he was half-way through it. It was obvious that he could finish it within a few hours and spend the rest of the day leisurely breezing through small tasks that his floor manager would undoubtedly thrust upon him before considering anyone else for the job. Joseph didn't know why, but his floor manager both seemed to like and dislike him at the same time. It was a mystery, a complete contrast, though it was the truth, or it practically screamed that it was the truth, at least.
His thoughts fluttered from work to Caitlyn, a girl that he was on good terms with but didn't know well enough to invite her out for drinks or lunch one day. While everything in the known universe pointed towards him having feelings for her, it was still something that he was trying to figure out. Joseph thought of her as attractive. She had long, blonde, curly hair which ended at the base of her elbows, deep blue eyes which he almost found himself lost in once and, even though she was barely average height for a woman, she was confidently feisty when she needed to be. Otherwise, she was pleasant and caring.
He'd met her at her workplace and they talked over the bar, treating themselves to more alcohol than they would have usually consumed. While Joseph was much more confident then as it was prior to his accident, the thoughts of the events from that day kept him from being overly flirtatious, the two of them leaving as friends, swapping phone numbers and promising to talk more as they'd taken a liking to each other. While it never escalated into anything, Joseph couldn't help but wonder what life would be like had other events taken place.
While rinsing the shampoo from his short, brown hair, the idea of a date felt appealing. It had been a few months since he and his previous girlfriend had split up and he was, honestly, starting to feel slightly lonely. Maybe it was driving home after work, debating about whether or not he should cook or get fast food and then proceeding to drown his sorrows in the endless amount of episodes of bad television, though it could have been the blissful idea of having someone to hug and kiss him every morning, every night, every time he left for work and every time he returned. Whatever it was that was making him feel lonely, it was as confusing as the idea of time travel to him.
Joseph watched as the soap from his body span around the drain, trapped in the torrent of water which later dragged it into the pipes. Sometimes, just sometimes, he envied how easily soap and water could disappear into a drain, never to be seen in the same state again. Wouldn't it be better for him if he could do the same? Coming out on the other side as a glorified version of himself: a better figure, no self-hatred, confidence which could make the most narcissistic people in the world turn to look at him with curiosity.
With a sigh, Joseph clambered out of the shower, grabbed his towel and started to dry himself. As he did so, he glanced at the door to his bedroom. In that room were the clothes which he would have to adorn to work: the work which he despised compared to racing. Though nothing, not even the will to leave such a boring, average-salary occupation could give him enough courage and confidence to climb onto a motorbike again. He felt as if he didn't deserve the luxury of racing. He had managed to destroy his chances of winning a major tournament, his chances of fame, his chances of a better life. It was crushing when it happened, when he looked at the other racers speeding by, whenever he thought about it. Joseph theorised that the reason why he was having nightmares in the first place was a sense of shame and embarrassment which he was forcing himself to relive every night. After all, he’d disappointed his scarce number of fans. He’d made them believe that he would win and, while he was so close to succeeding, so close to winning, Joseph felt as if he’d led them on, given them false hope. Joseph wouldn’t have been surprised had the small following turned to the real winner of the tournament instead, leaving him figuratively and literally on the floor.
The remainder of his morning was the same as it always was. After noting that the dark shadows under his eyes weren't improving, he shaved hastily, added some aftershave and deodorant, brushed his teeth, combed his hair and got dressed before he headed to the kitchen, deciding between toast and an apple for his breakfast. Joseph ate before making sure that he had everything he would need for the day. Wallet, phone, car keys, half-finished report, lunch, bag. He was ready to start another day in his life.
The journey to work was also the same as usual. Listening to the radio, he heard that there was a stabbing not far from where he lived and that there was a traffic pile-up around the corner from his workplace as a result of a brutal car crash. Nothing out of the ordinary for a regular day; at least one thing had to be a minor inconvenience to keep him from being completely happy.
Grimacing as he drove past a local motorbike store, Joseph tried to divert his attention, attempting to focus on listening to the man informing everyone about recent crime. He had to pass the shop every day, his reaction being similar each time as flashbacks attacked him from his nightmares. It wasn't as if the sight of any motorbike gave him intense reactions, the problem was that the store which he was required to pass was where he purchased his first bike; the one that he crashed.
Joseph took a different route to work in order to avoid the traffic, taking the first turning after the motorbike shop. When pulling up outside of the office building, Joseph sighed as he stopped the car, placing his arms on top of the steering wheel and resting his head on them as if he were desperately trying to catch up on sleep. The nightmare had drained him mentally already, as always, and, considering that he had a report to finish hours before it was due, that wasn't ideal.
Mustering all of the energy needed, Joseph opened the door and climbed out of his car, making sure to grab his bag before he closed it and locked the vehicle. Nine hours of work laid ahead of him. With an excessive amount of forced enthusiasm as he tried to convince himself that he was okay, Joseph practically waltzed his way towards the building, only catching wind of his strange and exaggerated movements as he reached the front door. Taking a moment to compose himself, Joseph opened the door, greeted a colleague who was walking outside for a cigarette, and entered the building.
The lift wasn't operational. A light not illuminating when the button for a specific floor was pressed was apparently a good enough reason to render the entire elevator unfunctional. With a sigh, Joseph turned to the stairs and begrudgingly started to wander up them. Why did his cubicle have to be on the fifth floor? He almost felt as if the building had decided to cause him some irritating inconveniences independently.
Passing each floor, Joseph started to notice how bland every day was for both him and everyone in the workplace, maybe even the city or the world. He hadn't noticed it previously, but it suddenly clicked in his mind, almost as if he couldn't see until a light was turned on: his life was boring. His life was so boring that he found something as inconvenient though irrelevant as a single lift being out of service fundamentally frustrating. Even though he tried his best to avoid succumbing to the excessive amount of work that was available, trying his utmost to keep himself entertained, he was failing; he was bored. Joseph knew that he hadn't felt that way before the crash, not for a long time, something which made him feel as if he’d been punched in the gut. Everything seemed to tie back to the crash. Everything.
Joseph tried to shake the thoughts of the accident from his mind. It was bad enough dealing with constant nightmares, but thinking about it on his own will, multiple times in a single day? He'd much rather be crushed by stacks upon stacks of paperwork that was due hours later. Despite his best efforts, however, he couldn't stop thinking about it. It was that crash that landed him in such a life-draining job. No. It wasn't the crash, it was him. He was stupid enough to let embarrassment and low confidence prevent him from racing again. It was only a minor crash! Every racer had dealt with a minor crash at least once in their lives! Maybe it was the thought of what that accident had caused him to lose, maybe it was the idea that he was a bad racer for slamming his face into the concrete, or maybe it was the pain of watching everyone else speed past and leave him behind. Maybe it was the idea of letting everyone down. Whatever it was, it pained him to continue thinking about it.
"Are you going to keep walking?" Came a voice from behind him. Joseph spun around, confused. There wasn't anyone behind him when he entered the building, let alone when he started ascending the staircase. Where did the man come from?
"S-Sorry," Joseph stuttered, dumbfounded turning around again and continuing to walk up the stairs, walking faster than before. He felt a little embarrassed, though he had no reason to be. The man could simply believe that Joseph was tired and nothing more.
"Are you okay?" The man asked, appearing by his side after rushing to keep up, giving him a look which clearly showed a small amount of concern. "You were stood there, not doing anything at all."
"I was?" Joseph asked, bewildered, looking at his feet as he wanted to avoid the man's gaze. Had he been thinking about the crash so intently that he put all of his focus into it, failing to walk as a result? If so, why? It wasn't a big deal to him anymore, he had constructed a new life for himself that was miles away from racing.
The two of them walked in silence past the fourth floor, continuing towards the fifth, Joseph taking in the man's features as they walked. He was slightly shorter than Joseph, maybe by an inch or two, though if his dark hair were gelled to stand on end, he would be at least three inches taller. Even though he wasn't muscular, he would have appeared slightly intimidating due to his rugged stubble, though his nonchalant facial expression suggested otherwise.
Joseph strained for something to say but nothing came to him. It was almost as if he was destined to be known as "strange" by this man, not being able to start a small conversation to pass the time and keep the situation from becoming increasingly awkward.
When Joseph reached the fifth floor, he turned to walk through the door and into the large room which contained dozens of cubicles when he saw the man following him. "You work on the fifth floor as well?" Joseph asked, stopping to turn to him as he did so. He knew that it was a stupid question but wanted to continue talking if they were heading in the same direction.
"I do," the man said after a pause. "I'm new here, yesterday was my first day," he explained, to which Joseph nodded, not knowing what else to do. Why did he have to be so socially incompetent? "I'm Derek," the man said, sticking his hand out towards Joseph, who shook it after a second of hesitation.
"I'm Joseph," Joseph replied, giving the man a flash of a smile before they entered the large room. Joseph realised that was the first time he had smiled all-day. His hopes weren't high for it being a brilliant morning; he felt bored and uncomfortable already.
Derek stayed put for a moment, prompting Joseph to turn and face him, looking into his pondering, dark brown eyes as he wondered what was wrong. Seconds later, Derek exclaimed: "Joseph Turner, right?" Joseph nodded, though confused. How did this man whom he had only just met know his full name? "You were a motorbike racer, weren't you? I thought you looked familiar! God, that crash was brutal. Only time I heard of you, to be honest.”
Joseph didn't know what to do. Not only was he bedazzled by the fact that he had met this man after thinking about racing, but he was surprised that he both knew of him and recognised him. Not to mention the fact that he just so happened to be working on the same floor. Joseph felt as if the day had decided to mess with him, to take his mind and grind it into small pieces only to shove it back into his head for the day afterwards.
"How come you quit racing?" Derek asked, walking and unknowingly leaving Joseph behind for a moment until he snapped out of his stupor and caught up.
It took Joseph a moment to decide on whether or not he should lie. Would it be acceptable to explain that he quit because he crashed at the end of a race? Would he seem weak for letting something so insignificant get to him and drag him so far down that he might as well be swimming in the molten rock surrounding the Earth's core?
"I grew tired of it," Joseph said after a moment, to which Derek looked at him, clearly shocked. For a second, Joseph felt as if he had said the wrong thing. He started to ponder about how he could retract that statement and substitute another before Derek spoke.
"How long had you been racing before you quit?" He asked as they turned a corner, heading closer and closer to Joseph's cubicle, making him worry that Derek was seated close enough to continue talking to him. While he seemed like a pleasant guy, the last thing that Joseph wanted to do was to continue discussing the thing that pained him the most.
"Professionally for over a year," Joseph replied, trying to keep his answers short and vague as a hint to Derek that he did not want to continue the discussion. Derek, however, didn't seem to take the hint and instead continued to pry for details.
"That's a shame," he stated, looking slightly solemn, something which Joseph questioned silently. "Even though that rock made you crash, I genuinely believed that you had the talent to go big when I saw the rest of the race.”
"What?" Joseph asked, spinning around to face Derek, a serious look on his face as he processed what he had heard. In his nightmares, he would always see a rock on the track yet that wasn't because he believed that a rock was the reason why he crashed. Joseph had wanted to believe more than anything in the world that a stray rock had caused the accident, but he couldn't believe it no matter how hard he tried. He knew that the marshals were supposed to make sure that the track was clear of rocks and pebbles and that there weren't supposed to be any dips or bumps on a track unless they were there because they fit the setting and made it more challenging. Joseph had wanted to believe that a rock had burst a tire and that was why he was sent flying from his bike, but instead, he could only believe that he was an incompetent racer and that he merely lost control of the vehicle. What Derek was saying to him was almost enough to fully reassure him that it wasn't completely his fault for crashing and letting everyone who supported him down.
"That's why you crashed, isn't it?" Derek asked, trying to confirm though Joseph had no clue. "People have discussed it online and most people think that you went over a rock or something similar because there was nothing wrong with the track and it wouldn't make sense for you to crash in such a way otherwise."
Joseph was dumbfounded. People were discussing it online? If what Derek was saying was the truth, then did that mean that he wasn't a horrific racer as he thought he was, but that it was a simple accident that could happen to any participant? For the first time since they started talking, Joseph wanted to continue the conversation with Derek, wanted to progress it further and discover more details, but had to begrudgingly enter his cubicle, bidding farewell to the man who restored some hope.