"Jet engines just aren't my thing."
That was an understatement. I don't mind being around them, or even hearing them (though there were times much earlier on where that did make my heart beat quite a bit faster than it should). But put me in a car with one just behind my head, with no control over anything - that's the bit that's making me sweat and my hands shake a bit at the moment.
Right now, I'm standing on a boat ramp, watching James and Jeremy drive our latest creation into a lake for a test run. This creation - thanks to an ingenious stroke of inspiration from the orangutan - has a jet engine mounted on the back of it. Jeremy says it's because - to break the water speed record - we need lots and lots of power.
Well, speaking from experience, those things will have a lot of power. And that's exactly why I'm standing on the bank and watching.
You could say that my previous experience with jet-powered cars would make me the ideal person to want this to work and be right in there and giving this a go. Well, you couldn't be further from the truth with that; I want nothing to do with the thing when Jeremy starts it up.
Which he has just done now. Oh God, that noise; that driving whine that still sends shivers down my spine - and not shivers of joy or anticipation anymore. They stopped being that at around 5:25pm on that September day more than ten years ago. When the noise switched from being exhilarating and exciting to one of the last things I heard.
Vaguely, I'm aware that the car has started moving, and Jeremy's turning up the power now - full thrust, another whine, more power. As if on autopilot, I start walking along the shoreline, watching closely for any sign of the car taking off as the power of the jet engine goes up to a hundred percent.
There's a small sense of relief when I see that the car's barely doing more than five miles an hour, but there's an even greater one when the sound of the engine cuts out and winds down at last. Finally, I can try to ease my heart into slowing down rather than trying to force it like I was barely ten seconds ago.
As James and Jeremy steer the car into shore, I'm trying my best to conceal the vestiges of fear and the ancient memories just flickering on the edges of my mind. By the time the car lands, I'm hoping that I look normal enough that the other two won't ask questions.
Somehow, I get away with it, and we end this part of the film with James rambling on with exactly what's wrong with Jeremy's "superb" engineering.
When Brian calls 'cut', and the cameras start to pack up, I walk over to the edge of the lake and sit down on the grass. I need a bit of time alone, try to get my head on straight again.
There are days when I hate what that crash did to me - actually, scratch that: I pretty much always hate what that crash did to me. But one thing I'm grateful that it didn't do was make me scared of driving. Let's be honest, I probably wouldn't still be here if it had; but the emotions and fear that were stirred up in me today brought back those worries I had before I got back into a car for the first time after the accident, and I don't know how to deal with them.
"Penny for your thoughts, Hammond?"
I jump at the sound of Jeremy's voice and my head swivels around on my shoulders, my own eyes meeting his for a brief moment as he smiles at my surprise. Beside him is James, who just regards me thoughtfully.
"We're all going back into town for lunch, you coming?" he asks, shifting his weight onto his left leg and putting his hands in the pockets of his jeans. I realise belatedly that both of them have gotten out of their fire-suits and back into normal clothes.
"Um, yeah sure" I quickly agree before glancing back out at the water. "Just give me a minute."
I catch the other two sharing a look out of the corner of my eye, and it seems there is some sort of silent conversation taking place. I try my best to ignore them and hope that they will leave me alone.
Surprisingly, they do, and we all go out to lunch and the emotions the day has conjured up are all but forgotten.
Except I didn't know until later that Jeremy and James spent the rest of the evening hatching a plan to 'help me'. If I had, then I would have jumped straight into the first car out of there.
"What" I demand as I stand on the edge of the lake, glaring up at the tallest member of our group, "are we doing back here?"
We're back at the lake where we were yesterday, this time with no crew and no cameras. The lake is still pristine and clear and quiet, and the water is still gently lapping at the shore and the concrete boat ramp we're both standing on.
Jeremy looks very pleased with himself, before he whistles back down the track and then comes the sound of a rumbling of tyres and the sound of an engine can be heard heading towards us. Within seconds, the amphibious creation can be seen trundling down the dirt with James at the wheel.
I'm briefly confused - we did the test yesterday, it didn't work, and we'd gone back to the technology centre to see if James and I could come up with a more sensible idea than the shaved ape. So why are we back here?
It becomes quite clear when James pulls up beside us wearing his fire suit from yesterday and throws out two others; one for Jeremy, and then one for me. I immediately realise what they want to do.
Jeremy's shoulders slump in mild exasperation. "Come on, Hammond" he pleads, "You know it's perfectly safe - it only does 4!"
Biting my lip, I realise I can't really argue with that. Not effectively anyway; doesn't stop me from trying.
"I know that, you moron" I growl, trying to hide how my voice is starting to shake as my heart realises what they want me to do, "but-"
James cuts me off, "But nothing; we're doing you a favour here, the least you could do is go along with it."
My glare switches over to him now. "I told you both yesterday, jet engines really aren't my thing, and anyway I don't like-" annoyingly, my voice cuts out and I have to swallow hard as I try to focus my gaze on anything around us to calm my mind. Even more annoyingly, the only thing it seems to focus on is that massive jet on the back of the car.
"You don't like what? The car? The barrels? The gear lever? What?" Jeremy's demanding now, and I can't help but try to instead blame my fear on that blasted gear lever that's just a little too close to my groin for anyone's comfort.
The truth bursts out of my mouth before I can stop it. "The noise, alright! I don't like the noise."
They both look confused for a moment, and then Jeremy seems to have a snap of realisation; "You're actually scared of it, aren't you."
The wince and full-body flinch he gets from me are surely giveaway enough.
Clearly, they are, as both his and James' expressions immediately soften, and Jeremy walks over and puts an arm around my shoulders - which I've only just noticed are trembling a little.
"I knew something was up when you didn't want to come in it yesterday" he's saying, although not much is going in my ears right now - they've started ringing. "Normally, anything remotely thrill-seekery and you're straight there."
James has joined us now, and he looks a bit awkward - as he usually does anytime one of us is a bit shaky or emotional.
"To be honest" he admits sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck as he speaks, "I thought you were saying that for a bit of a laugh - like we usually do."
I have to scoff out a laugh at that - if only, I wish to myself.
The three of us stand quietly for a moment, and I use the time to try to get my heart rate back under control. But every time I glance up and look at that car, it spikes right back up again as the adrenaline and fear floods my body.
"Well" Jeremy announces rather matter-of-factly, "There's not much else for it now; into the fire suit with you, Hammond."
I want to protest, but deep down I suppose this might actually help. At least, I hope it does, otherwise I'm going to kill the other two.
"I seriously can't believe you talked me into this!"
I'm sitting in the car now, fire suit donned and the jet engine about two feet behind my head, ready to start up. The memories swirling around in my mind right now are almost a jumble, and I'm clenching my fists to keep myself somewhat grounded in reality.
It gets much harder as Jeremy drives the car into the lake and readies to start the jet. I'm swallowing nearly every three seconds now, trying to wet my dry throat and mouth and also to keep my stomach - as well as its contents - in place.
I can feel the seat beneath me vibrating, though whether that's from the idling of the petrol engine or my own shaking body I don't know. I swear that I'm drawing blood in my palms as my fists clench tighter to keep the memories and fear at bay.
"You ready?" Jeremy's voice sounds distant and, dare I say, even a bit concerned. Not trusting my own at this moment, I just nod and swallow again.
He starts up the engine, and my whole body tenses in time with the shrieking whine. "Bloody hellfire" I mutter, unconsciously mirroring my own words from all those years ago.
As Jeremy lifts off the brake pedal, and we start to go forwards, I try to force myself to relax - I know I'm safe, we're not going faster than walking pace, and water is a much nicer landing than cold hard dirt.
So why am I still so scared?
I've managed to keep the flashes of memories at bay for now, but as Jeremy kicks up the thrust to fifty percent, and the whine increases, my own body begins to shake harder. My throat has gone completely dry and my eyelids refuse to blink on command. My breathing is getting faster, as is my heart rate. My head is starting to hurt too - as if my brain associates this noise with the pain it was put through and is warning me to stop and get away. Sadly, I can't.
The car speeds up a little - we're doing about 4 mph now. I can feel them both looking at me, watching me, and I see James shoot Jeremy a warning look out of the corner of my eye - he knows what this is doing, but he's torn between helping me face my fears and getting me out of the car (he told me all this rather apologetically much later over a very welcome beer).
My jaw is locked, I'm too scared to speak for fear of either screaming or throwing up - neither of which are very dignified. The thrust is up to seventy-five percent now, and the memories are getting harder to keep contained.
There's a runway flickering at the corners of my vision now, taking the place of the lake, and I can feel the heavy weight of the steering wheel in my hands. I tighten my fists - I can actually feel the blood trickling onto my skin now, but I hardly notice it, nor do I notice the fact that they've gone slightly numb and are cramping from being held in such a tight position for so long.
Jeremy must mistake my silence as an okay to proceed to a hundred percent power, and he throws the engine into full thrust.
The car surges forwards and I'm suddenly back at that runway, barreling down it at some un-godly speed, the air rushing past and stealing my voice the moment it leaves my mouth. I don't notice my own screams as they leave my cracked and very dry lips, my eyes can't see anything beyond the nose of the Vampire and the runway ahead.
The memories that were only flickering at the edges of my consciousness have now fully taken over my senses. All I can hear is the wail of the jet engine behind me, the rush of air past my face, the rumble of the car as it flies down the runway.
And then the 'bang' as the tyre blows and everything starts to go horribly wrong.
It's like watching a scene in a movie, but you're suddenly projected into the body of the main character - that's what this feels like. I feel oddly detached from it yet so strongly connected because they're my memories. I watch as my hands try to wrestle with the steering wheel to keep the Vampire on the runway, I feel the nose dig into the grass sending me on my first flip, I feel the weight of my brain stretching inside my head - the pain is unbearable now - and then the bliss of unconsciousness as it all becomes too much.
Then I hear familiar voices shouting my name.
"Hammond! Oh God; come on mate, wake up!"
Confused, I hesitantly force my eyes open, and realise that we've stopped moving and we're now back on shore. My head - I realise quickly - is lying in Jeremy's lap with him and James staring down at me with terrified and worried expressions on their very pale faces.
"Bloody shit, Hammond" James croaks out, shoulders slumping in relief when he sees I'm awake, "You gave us both a fucking heart attack out there!"
I stare blankly back up at them, not having a single clue what he's going on about. Then I remember where we are and what we were doing and I struggle to bolt upright.
Jeremy's hand on my shoulder stops me pretty quickly. "Easy mate, just lie still for a moment, get your breath back" he's trying to calm me down, I can hear it, but all I know is that I need to get the hell out of this car.
James must see something in my face because he gets out of the car and looks pointedly back at Jeremy. "Actually, Jezza, let him go - he looks like he's going to be sick."
Unfortunately, and rather annoyingly, James is right. My stomach - having caught up with the rest of my body and realised what it had just been put through - was starting to rebel rather violently in my gut, and I need to get out before I add another distasteful decoration to the car.
With that warning, Jeremy quickly lets me go, and I stumble out of the car and collapse onto the grass, immediately beginning to vomit quite harshly to expel what little was left in my stomach.
I can feel someone's hand on my back, rubbing in warm, comforting circles. My head is starting to spin and that along with the residual ache left behind by my own memories makes me feel even more ill - it's like having the world's worst concussion.
"Don't" I grind out when my stomach decides to take a short break, "ever make me do that again!" followed by a pained groan and more retches.
Both James and Jeremy have the decency to look more than a little bit guilty and apologetic at that. I don't notice - I'm still vomiting up yesterday's breakfast into the clover.
When I'm done at last, I crawl away and lean back against a tree, panting heavily. My eyes close and I try to steady my shaking body and calm my racing heart.
I hear the hesitant footsteps of the other two approaching, and I open one eye and glare up at them crossly.
"I guess 'sorry' isn't going to go down well right now, is it?" Jeremy speaks up, glancing down at me but refusing to meet my eyes.
I just keep glaring at him for a few moments before my whole body sags as the last whiffs of adrenaline leave it and I'm left feeling weak and exhausted - too exhausted to be angry at my friends.
"No" I sigh back, keeping my eyes closed as the weariness creeps into every muscle and bone in my entire body. "But it's a start."
I can practically hear both of their heads jerk up in surprise - it makes me chuckle a little despite myself.
"You went about it in completely the wrong way" I start, trying to keep my voice sounding a little cross for just a moment, "but I suppose you were just trying to help, after all."
I hear them both sit down beside me on the the grass, and I open my eyes and look across at them tiredly.
"Just.... promise you won't make me ever get in a jet-propelled car ever again and I'll consider forgiving you." My mouth can't help turning up a little at the corners as I fail to keep my voice sounding cross or annoyed, and the other two smile back.
"Promise" they both say in unison, before Jeremy holds his arms up in an inviting gesture and I gladly sink into the hug.
It's a few moments later when his voice rumbles against my ear where my head is lying against his chest. "Hammo, you're still shaking mate."
I privately wince - of course I bloody am, I curse.
"I'm not going to ask what happened out there - cause I think even the orangutan can guess" James pipes up next, shuffling a little closer and putting his hand on my shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze. "But you really did nearly give us both a heart attack - I don't think either of us have ever seen you like that."
"And nor do we ever want to again" Jeremy adds, squeezing me a little tighter in his arms as he speaks.
I stay silent for a few minutes, trying to work out in my mind the best way to describe how I was feeling to my friends. To their credit, they wait patiently, letting me gather my thoughts and knowing I would explain when I was ready.
"I told you I don't like the noise" I begin, my voice quiet and sounding horribly vulnerable - but I don't care this time. "It's not just because it's the sound of a bloody great jet engine not two feet behind my head, it's-" here, I realise I'm stumped. This next part is so private, I don't think I've shared it with anyone outside of Mindy or my parents.
Again, James and Jeremy wait patiently, not pushing or trying to drag the information out of me before it's ready - I'm grateful for that.
"It was the last thing I heard, you know?" I decide the best way to tackle this was to just say what I was thinking. "Before everything went arse-up. The last memory I have of that day is the car starting to roll and that noise right behind my ear, and knowing there was nothing else I could do."
"And it scared you."
I nod against Jeremy's chest. "I thought that was the last noise I was ever going to hear on this earth" I whisper, and my voice is starting to get faster and faster, "I really thought I was going to die - and I didn't want that to be the last thing I ever heard. I want that noise to be the sound of my children's voices, the sound of Mindy's voice, telling me it's okay and I can check out. Hearing that noise, I knew I was going to die, and I was going to die alone."
There. I said it.
That - all along - has been my greatest fear, and to me, that's what the jet engine represents - especially when you bolt it onto a car and ask me to get in it and drive off. It takes me back to that day and those fears I had for those few split seconds before my life was forever changed.
The other two have gone awfully quiet, and I'm starting to feel increasingly self-conscious, I start to squirm in Jeremy's arms - only to have him tighten them further, preventing my movement.
"I'm sorry, Hamster" he murmurs softly, adjusting his hold so I can look up at them both more easily, "I had no idea."
I scoff, "Clearly" I reply teasingly, a tiny grin pulling at the corners of my mouth.
Surprisingly, Jeremy doesn't return it.
"I mean it, mate. I'm truly sorry for all that - and for making you think you had to do it."
I thump him in the beer gut with a weak fist. "Idiot" I growl, "It's not your fault - well, not back then it wasn't, still not too happy about this morning, but I'll let it slide for now."
As I pull my hand away, James spots the cuts on my palms from my fingernails and grabs onto my wrist, yanking it towards him. I yelp in surprise, then I feel my cheeks flush with guilt as he forces my fingers to uncurl.
"When did-" he doesn't need to go any further, I can tell he knows the answer. "You did this to yourself?"
"Not on purpose!" I protest, pulling my hand out of his grasp and flushing further. Thankfully, James says nothing, but instead he stands and walks over to his bag which I've just noticed beside another tree. After rummaging around in it for a few moments, he comes back with a pocket first-aid kit (of course he has one of those) and proceeds to take out some antiseptic cream and some gauze.
"Hold still" he instructs, taking my hand back into his and gently rubbing the cream into the tiny wounds. I hiss in pain, but I'm somewhat grateful for the distraction.
He does the same for all four of the scratches on my right palm, and then checks my left - where, upon finding similar scratches, he repeats the process.
"All done" he announces proudly a few minutes later, putting the cream and left-over gauze back into his kit, which then went back into his bag.
I smile up at him, and then - from absolutely nowhere - I yawn. The other two chuckle at the almost bewildered look on my face afterwards, and Jeremy pushes me away so he can stand, offering his hand out to me once he has.
I take it and haul myself onto my feet, and instantly regret it as my legs are still quite shaky and threaten to buckle as soon as I'm upright. Thankfully, Jeremy quickly steadies me and the three of us walk back towards the cars.
James volunteers to drive the amphibious car back to the technology centre (where his own Panda is parked), while Jeremy takes me back to the motel in his rented Audi. Secretly, I'm thankful I don't have to spend another second in that monstrosity, although I can't help but shudder as we walk past it on the way to where Jeremy's car is parked.
Once we're in the car and Jeremy has started the engine and is driving off, he shoots me a glance and quietly mutters "Get some rest, mate; you look shattered."
Happily, I'm quick to oblige.
I'm not so happy when - what feels like seconds later - I'm shooting upright in the passenger seat with a choked scream as my mind pulls itself out of a nightmare. Panting, struggling to get my bearings, I sluggishly notice that Jeremy has pulled up around the corner from the motel and is watching me worriedly.
Scrubbing a shaking hand over my sweaty face, I try to assure him that I'm alright and that it was just a bad dream.
He - of course - isn't buying it, and we drive in silence into the carpark of the motel. James meets us at the front door, scrolling through something on his phone but he looks up at us as we approach, offering us a friendly smile.
I keep my head down and go straight past him and up the stairs to my room, grateful to at last be somewhere private where I can rest properly.
I've barely closed my eyes when I hear someone knocking on my door. Annoyed, I grumble as I get up, weak muscles protesting from the movement.
"Ye-?" I open the door to see Jeremy standing there, and he doesn't wait to be invited in before he walks past me and waits in the middle of the room for me to come back inside. Slightly confused, but suspecting this has something to do with both what happened down at the lake and in the car, I close the door and sit down on the edge of the bed.
"As touched as I am by your concern" I start, scratching my nose absent-mindedly, "I do have to wonder what you hope to achieve by barging into my room like this with no explanation whatsoever."
Jeremy's shoulders slump slightly and he sighs heavily as he sits down beside me on the bed.
"I wasn't kidding when I said you scared the shit out of me and James today" he replies, looking down at his hands in his lap. I can tell he's worried, but really - I'm forty-eight for crying out loud, and not made of china!
"Jezz-" I try, but he cuts me off with a frantic shake of his head.
"No, mate. I mean it - you didn't see it, but it was bloody terrifying. I mean, it was almost like you were having a seizure, that's how much you were shaking. Your face was so white and you just kept screaming - you sounded like you were possessed or something!"
I clamp my mouth shut, realising that Jeremy probably needs this as much as I did earlier.
"And then in the car" he continues, and I'm startled to hear his voice beginning to tighten and croak, "you kept trying to struggle out of your seatbelt, I thought you were going to wrap it around your own neck at one stage; you were still screaming, and you were crying out at one point for help, and I couldn't do anything. I don't ever want to hear that noise again, and knowing I made all this come back up-"
At this point, Jeremy turns away, clearly feeling uncharacteristically vulnerable, and I'm left feeling shocked.
Without thinking, I stand and wrap my own arms around his trembling body - thinking he needs this just as much as I did.
He's not crying, but his eyes when they meet mine after a few moments of holding the hug are full of deep emotion and regret. I read the apology clear as day in his face, and I pull him back into the hug.
"I just don't like seeing you in pain" he whispers, sounding almost mournful against my chest.
I sit down beside him again, still keeping the hug going, and force his eyes to meet mine.
"You hopeless old fart" I tease gently, using a nickname from a long time ago - it makes both of us smile. "It's not your fault. You know me - I wouldn't have done anything if I really didn't want to, so you didn't force me to do anything, alright?"
Jeremy laughs, nodding in agreement as he pulls away and I sit back on my heels feeling rather pleased with myself.
He grins at my expression and playfully ruffles my hair. "Thanks Hamster."
I swat his hand away, pulling an expression of playful annoyance that's quickly shattered by a wide yawn as my body remembers how tired it is.
Jeremy notices and he pulls me back into his arms. Surprised, I glance up at him as he adjusts my body so that I'm in the most comfortable position and he settles back against the headboard.
"Um, Jeremy-?" I'm cut off by my own bewilderment, but Jeremy seems to get where I was going.
"You need sleep" he explains, the answer obvious to him, "and physical contact is also the best defeater of nightmares - tested and proven."
I decide to humour him for the moment - I'm too mentally and physically exhausted to argue anyway - and I close my eyes, falling fast asleep just moments later.
And, above my head, Jeremy smiles.