By the time he got out of the front door the morning sun had fully risen. Surrounding it lay a sea of blue sky, light coloured and peppered here and there with trails of white left from distant airplanes. The birds sang in the trees, all in harmony, and a light breeze whispered, left over from the night before.
As he jumped into his car, a dusty red little Citroën, he realised that in his rushed efforts to get ready he'd put his shoes on the wrong feet. A little while ago he'd seen a documentary based on people with abnormal deformities, and there had been an American 30-something year old with two right feet. Right now, looking at his shoes, he looked a little like him; all he needed now was a group of cameras and a well-spoken, polished presenter pretending to care but really just thinking about the paycheck at the end of night. He figured all TV presenters were pretentious, fixated on climbing up the great showbiz ladder rather than helping those in need.
He grabbed them off, scuffed black business shoes to match his tattered jeans and faded blue shirt, and swapped them over. Once both shoes were on correct, he lit up a smoke and set off down the road.
Ahead of him was Lancaster Road, a sprawling stretch of asphalt tarmac that served as the primary mode of navigation through Manchester. If you were to turn left it would take you all the way into the main city, and also a stodge of backed-up traffic, and, if you chose right, to the quiet town of Penitence which was where his works was based. Going right would technically be quicker, as the road to the left led to a series of zig zag-like curves where the road layout had been forced to compensate for the huge cliff several miles to the north. That being said, Will almost always chose left, as the dual carriageway that branched off Lancaster Road was always jammed up with traffic, comprising mainly of angry motorists and haulage lorries driving in from the east. Choosing right would easily add three quarters of an hour onto his journey, and quite frankly he'd rather stare at a wall than be surrounded by blaspheming mouths and ugly red faces.
This time however he went right, joining the steady stream of cars that were already beginning to slow down. There was no apparent reason for this, for over 4 years he must have consistently turned left every morning, but today his mind had thrown a curveball - albeit a stupid one. Already running late, it had chosen to go on the longest route possible.
Good work there mate, brilliant.
50mph - 45mph - 40mph
The speedometer slowly crept down, the shudder of the lower gears gradually increasing. Clouds had now gathered in the sky, not quite bloated nor dark enough to threaten rain but it was enough to dull the sunshine into a pale, white, glow. He was now going slow enough to see the bits of clutter and ******* - discarded newspapers, cans, broken bottles - littering the pavement. Then it suddenly gave way to a rudimentary dirt road and steel crash barriers as he approached the dual carriageway.
35mph - 30mph - 25mph
Sighing, he fumbled for the radio and flicked it on, momentarily averting his gaze from the road to the numbered buttons, tuning for a station.
--- Ssssshhhh ---
Nothing but static.
**** radio! If only I could -
When he glanced up his heart nearly stopped - directly ahead of him, on the highway, stood a man. He stood with his back toward Wills car, shoulders slumped, stock still.
Will froze as the car lurched on, the distance between the bonnet and the mans body rapidly closing. No thought came into his brain, his legs distant from his body as if untethered.
Nothing but numbness.
The future series of events played like a stop motion video inside his mind; finding the brakes and jamming them down - only too little, too late. The old man would first lean as the bumper pressed into his lower back, then snap sickeningly in half, the momentum of the car causing his body to jackhammer up the bonnet and roll over the back of the car. There he would fall once again onto the road, spine splintered and blood soaking through his shirt into a puddle on the tarmac.
STOP! Will stop the **** car!!!
He smashed the brakes down and closed his eyes.
Although the first thing taught in driving lessons is to never close your eyes, particularly during an emergency stop, the overwhelming panic threw his nerves into a spasm, and in that split second everything he was told - brake hard, clutch down, don't let the car stall - was forgotten in an instant. He knew what he should do, knew that if the wheels were even slightly turned he could cause the car to skid, or worse, flip.
Brake down, clutch down, engine off, a mantra his instructor had once sang on one of his first lessons. Will had a feeling that if Ruth Carotene could see him, see this, now she'd have some sort of coronary, or maybe an aneurysm. She'd always been set in her ways of teaching, starting each lesson going through her seemingly endless list of checkpoints, and this right here smashed every single rule she'd taught him.
Break, clutch, engine off -
Eyes, open your eyes
He did, the windscreen before him doubling for a second. His heart was pounding away, nervous sweat lining his forehead and arms. The car had stopped, and in his dumb paralysis he hadn't the faintest idea how much it had skid. Safe to say it hadn't flipped over though, unless he was upside down and didn't realise it.
Nope, the sky is still above me, he observed, and it was then he also saw the fat bald-headed guy rapping his hands against the drivers side window. The world washed back slowly, the sun white and the air filled wit beeps and the Ssssshhhhhh static of the radio. He lowered the window, allowing the honking horns to fully enter and consume the inside of the car.
"What the hell are you playing at? I nearly ran into the back of you!" the bald guy barked at him, his pudgy face both pale and angry. Will glanced in the rear view mirror and saw about a dozen or so more cars behind him, scowling faces and gesturing hands sending out messages far from morning greetings or amicable hello's.
"Sorry... There was someone in the road," he croaked, pointing to the blank space in front. Empty, nothing there.
Can't be, he was right there! Stood right there! For a second he thought the figure had been an apparition, or maybe hadn't been there all along, merely a figment of his tired mind. That's when his gaze shifted to the opposite side of the road and the mis-shapen entity clambering over the crash barrier. Whoever it was, they had crossed the road while Will had been in his daze, and it was now he could fully see it in it's ghastly glory.
"I must be ****** blind 'cause to me there ain't nobody there -"
Grotesque was the only word he could think of to describe it. Under the pallid glow of the sun its skin glistened sick-white, partially covered by a tattered grey t-shirt that billowed in the wind like torn flags. It wore shorts, also grey, it's long stick-like legs poking out like splintered tooth picks. And it's face, oh God that face. He only caught a vague view as it glanced over its shoulder, but what he saw reminded him of the ghouls that would creep out of the crypts, the nightmarish beings that stalked late night TV shows such as the Twilight Zone seeking fresh flesh to feast on. But it was human alright - it's normal, albeit disintegrating, clothing the only sign of its former non-twisted self.
Oh God -
"Hey, are you even listening? There ain't no one there *******!"
Will faced the guy, now stood so close his flabby face nearly poked through the window, and then back to the crash barrier. The fiend was gone, much to his relief.
"Sorry it must have been a bird or something, I'm really really sorry mate I thought it was a man, or a kid."
"Yeah yeah whatever, just get going and get out of my way." With that he stormed off, only stopping briefly to exchange disapproving looks with the car behind him. He drove a black sports-like car, probably a Vauxhall, and Will briefly wondered how such a small car could carry an overweight ******* like that.
*******, he muttered to himself as he restarted the engine. Turns out he'd let the car stall as well.
Back to school I guess, what would dear old Ruth say?
Setting off was easy, the fat guy overtook him almost instantly, slamming his horn as he went, but looking over to where the misfit had been was not. He wanted to look, to check in case it hadn't really gone away and was instead lurking, contorting it's swollen lips into a grin.
Grinning at him.
"Gooood evening listeners, this is RADIO XFM!"
Halfway down the radio finally clicked on, interrupting his line of thought - quite mercifully, if he was being honest. The sight of that thing not only made him feel uneasy, but he also couldn't shake off the feeling of foreboding as well. Like it was some sort of warning, a sign.
[smashing glass smashing]
He didn't know, didn't dare to think, and as he cantered down the carriageway in the steady stream of traffic he sat silently, the radio singing out its tunes like an uninvited guest. It was an oldie that was on, maybe Boston or Bowie, he wasn't sure, but as it played on he sat in silence, the shadows in the car cutting harsh lines into his face.