By David S Shaw.
His heart was racing, pulse pounding in his ears. He was terrified. Bitter tasting panic filled his mouth. Vibrations from the car’s chassis signalled it had reached its limits and promised nothing more.
He glanced in his mirror. The car behind flashed its headlights.
Eighty miles per hour … and rising! This was faster than he’d driven since rushing Miriam to hospital when she collapsed at home nine years ago.
Chances of the car passing him?
Hands trembling, aching, gripping the steering wheel tightly.
He wiped away a bead of sweat with his shoulder. Blinded by full beams, tilting his head and blinking rapidly, he squinted through the screen, trying desperately to see.
Trees flashed past on either side, appearing to hem in the road, making it tunnel-like. All he could make out against the night sky were haunting branch shadows. Clouds obscured the moon. Pale light barely crept through, casting eeriness. Catching his breath, he sensed that trees were brushing against the car.
Straining to see through the trees, there was nothing but fields beyond. No welcoming, twinkling lights.
Daniel Morris feared he was at risk. Things were turning more sinister, like that film from the late night channel, with Dennis something-or-other being pursued from state to state by a crazed trucker.
This was Daniel’s version on this God-forsaken country road in the middle of nowhere.
How had he managed to get into this mess? After all, it was supposed to be a simple trip to Alex Seacroft’s house. A quick signature, confirming the sale of a property in Spain. And half an hour later, he was supposed to be at home, vodka in hand, while Miriam made a hash of dinner. Usually, a couple of stiff ones dulled the meal and made the company bearable. After twenty-seven years of marriage they were at that point where they couldn’t remember anything else.
This deal had dragged on for eight months and, in all that time, Daniel had run himself ragged. Now, the seller insisted that the deal be done by midnight or it was off. After all that work and planning, for things to fall apart at the last minute was unthinkable. It meant that their plans for selling everything and moving to a little cottage in Spain would be shattered.
With a quick eye to the mirror, he tried to place the car behind but couldn’t. When had it appeared on his bumper? Maybe at the traffic lights? He wasn’t sure. Now, eight miles later, doing over eighty, he found himself in almost total darkness in a car that had barely passed its last inspection.
Panic rose from the pit of his stomach, slowly spreading throughout his core. Horn blaring from behind, then a prolonged beeping. It made him flinch.
He stomped on the accelerator, launching the Ford forward. Couldn’t help but look in the mirror again, as that phantom car closed as if to ram him. Almost frozen in place, Daniel caught a white blur of the final corner marker as it flashed by.
His speedometer–close to ninety-five. That fucking car was pushing him beyond all reason.
With the pavement curving gently to the left, he made every effort to follow that arc, as balding tires squealed in protest. The rear of the car started drifting. Somehow, he jerked the wheel in the opposite direction, counteracting its slide. A momentary cloud of dust hid the aggressor as Daniel careened off the pavement, striking the soft shoulder. It took every ounce of willpower left in his body to move his leg muscles and ease off the pedal. The car fishtailed. Somehow, he managed to keep it on the road. Tires spinning, clawing for traction.
Eyes of the other driver, piercing the back of Daniel’s neck.
Imagining that car ramming his bumper.
Having seen enough of “Police, Camera, Action,” Daniel realized he could be shunted off the road at any minute. Sweat trickled down the back of his neck. Leaning forward, he felt his shirt peel away from the cheap vinyl seat. Lights from behind dazzled his eyes and he jerked the mirror away in frustration. The mystery car shot forward as they both straightened out. He could see about two hundred yards of road.
Just a sliver of soft shoulder keeping him from harm’s way. He had never driven this road before. He ran his trembling fingers through the greying hair plastered to his head.
And then … dizziness.
Again, horn blasts, making him jump.
Staring down the unfamiliar roadway, the speedometer pinned, Daniel veered out of his lane, yanking violently on the wheel in the opposite direction.
And then he lost it.
His front wheel tore into the soft shoulder, dropping the car into a gaping rut. Bouncing up the other side, the big car lost its tentative grip on the road. He frantically fought for control as the rear of the car came around. The weight of the vehicle drove it forward, toeing the wheel inwards, rupturing the worn suspension. Daniel slammed on the brakes … but it was too late. The airborne nose of the car raked downwards, carrying its momentum through the dirt and beyond to a drainage ditch.
Daniel’s head crushed the dashboard as his car slammed into the opposite bank. He could taste something metallic. Blood?
Before he blacked out, the last thing he felt was a searing pain as the steering wheel impaled his chest, pinning him to the seat. The last thing he saw was a blinding flash of light as the other car overtook him.
As the ambulance pulled away, siren blaring, two police officers on the scene were consulting one another, their faces bathed in blue lights from the emergency vehicles. They pointed towards the curve.
He must have taken it too fast.
This curve was notorious for causing accidents, its seemingly gentle line enticing people to drive too fast.
A tow truck was positioned to extract the wreckage. Emergency personnel and the tow truck driver were oblivious to flowers tied to a large tree opposite the drainage ditch. By this time next week, this stretch of road would be designated an accident black spot.
Parting clouds allowed the moon to cast a pale light on the emergency vehicles parked along the road. Yellow and blue strobes fought for attention as emergency crews wandered about in organised chaos, pointing and shouting. A fire tender diagonally blocked the road. Two crew members sat on the back, sipping cups of weak tea from a thermos. A fireman joked. Someone laughed.
It was the start of the night shift. Already, it promised to be a busy one. This was the second accident they had attended. The first, an elderly woman who had driven into a parked car and broken her leg. Then there would be the inevitable hoax calls to come.
Surveying the scene, a paramedic exclaimed that the victim had been fortunate. A broken tooth, split lip, and crush injuries to the chest from the steering wheel.
Their last two accident victims hadn’t survived. One had suffered a heart attack and died on the way to Casualty. The second wasn’t wearing a seat belt and had gone through the windscreen, lodging him in a fence. A rotting post had punctured his neck. He bled to death before anyone had reached him.
Both officers spun on their heels towards Daniel’s car. Its front, crumpled.
Hissing steam coming from under its bonnet.
The acrid smell of hot oil and rubber.
The driver’s door–pried open.
The windscreen? Smashed into a thousand pieces scattered along the bank.
At least he had been alone.
Already, they were mentally writing their reports, wondering what time they would be clocking off.
Another idiot rushing home. Nobody seemed interested in a darkened car halfway down the road, pointing towards them. A black sports car, its windows heavily tinted.
Suddenly, it turned on its headlights.
And with a muffled growl from the big engine under its bonnet, the mystery car did a u-turn in the middle of the road.
Tires squealing, Daniel’s tormentor left a track of rubber as he disappeared into the blackness.