by Benjamin Kurt Unsworth
Somewhere near Hay on Wye, 1st November 2010…
The red Nissan, making wild, sickening croaks as it goes, pulls over onto the side of the road. Greg Rhodes waggles the gear stick again and tries to start the engine, almost crushing the key against the keyhole with a horrible grind. The car continues to make a disgusting noise. Finally, and loudly, the car grumbles before letting out a small funnel of gas, like a dragon spitting smoke from its nostrils and spluttering viciously. It smells vile and Greg’s nose wrinkles at the putrid smell. Greg swears – Greg swears again – And then once more. He yanks the stiff car door open and steps out. He takes his battered Nokia from his pocket then lifts it to the sky and presses a selection of buttons.
After the phone makes a whining sound, the words ‘NO SIGNAL’ flash on the small screen, in capitals as if to taunt the man. Greg briefly reaches for a cigarette, removing one from the glove box. Bitter, cold wind bites his face and wafts his hair around. He fumbles in the messenger bag tucked over his arm, “Lighter, lighter…” He retracts his hand and pulls out a silver lighter with an engraving of the Beatles. The man clicks the wheel multiple times to no avail then throws the lighter back in his bag and swears once more. After this, he drops the cigarette into the cluttered footwell of the Nissan. As he does this, his eyes drift and catch sight of tracks on the road. About three or four pairs of tyre tracks or skid marks, as well as old, spatters of oil and mud that are underneath Greg’s car. The marks are visible up to the side of the road but don’t leave the place where his car is parked.
Greg looks around at the road and the surrounding countryside. Grass, rocky banks and trees surround the windy road. Not a sound echoes or emanates from them – not even bird song. However, the branches sway and bend, clearly affected by the elements. The leaves bristle and brush against each other. Cheery. Rhodes put the bag down and meanders over to the car bonnet. Thin, black smoke pours out of its sides. Covering his mouth, he lifts the bonnet up and props it open. The car’s components are in complete disarray; confronting him are melted cable ends, metal bashed into unrecognisable shapes, dented and charred pipes and coolant spilling out into a pool at the bottom of the bonnet. A horrible, pungent smell fills Greg’s nostrils.
This isn’t a normal engine failure. Unless normal is impossible destruction that somehow managed to escape Greg’s notice.
He shuffles away from the car, retching and coughing. His throat stings and feels like it’s coated in ash and oil. He splutters once more, bending over and spitting, hoping anything might ease the disgusting feeling.
“Well, fuck me!” he gasps at the wrecked vehicle. Sitting down on the curb, he removes a Yorkie Bar from his trouser pocket. The chocolate bar has melted slightly against the warmth of his legs. Whilst eating the chocolate, he watches the smoke and the shapes it is making in the air. He tries to match the smoke to real-life objects or forms.
First, a pair of underpants.
Then a cobweb.
Next came a knife.
And, eventually, a pistol.
Greg shakes his head then cranes his neck around, with a long sigh. He knows the car isn’t going anywhere without major repairs. He pulls out his shabby, battered phone and turns it on yet the same annoying message flashes up once more – ‘NO SIGNAL’. Greg curses. He scratches his head, curls his hair with his finger and looks up.
On the other side of the road sits an Indian man and child, a ginger-haired man and scruffy gentleman are next to a clean-cut woman on the wet, grass bank. Their hands and arms are outstretched, and their legs are crossed. The Indian man and child, both similar in skin tone and hair appearance. look like they are probably related. All five are sitting in a circle.
Are they meditating?
Yet, here? On the side of the road? In the middle of nowhere?
Greg doesn’t remember seeing them too long ago when his car went kaput.
“Excuse me! Don’t suppose any of you are good with cars?” No answer. Not even a flinch. Not from any of them. Greg looks up and down the road then crosses over to them. Closer up, they look blank. None of their eyes move as he walks past them. Their chests do not move. Or if they do, it is so small it is unnoticeable. He waves his hand but still, none of them makes the smallest of movements.
“Hello? Excuse me?” The figures are still. Greg askes again but he still doesn’t get an answer. He kneels down and stares at the older Indian man. He waves his hands more wildly now in front of the man’s face; however, the man’s eyes are set like concrete. Greg’s eye line shifts down towards the Indian man’s hands and then recoils in shock. On the man’s left hand is the word ‘Death’. The word appears to be etched into the hand like it has been cut and not yet healed. The words are also carved into his right hand. And both of the child’s hands.
He walks around each figure and inspects their hands, finding all of them emblazoned with that word, standing out like a lighthouse in the fog. Greg nervously stretches his hand out and lightly, cautiously, touches the evil word on the clean-cut woman’s right hand. The searing pain is instant and like a dagger through butter. The pain rapidly shoots through Greg’s body, consuming every nerve and muscle, burning ‘Death’ into his brain.
He stumbles around the grass bank, eyes watering and seeing triple. Through his blurred vision, he sees his arms flail to and fro but in his pain-riddled state he can’t even feel them, just lengths of excruciatingly painful flesh. The statue-like people behind him only turn their heads to stare at him. Greg can feel movement on the side of his face like he’s being whipped by a thousand tiny little wings. Devilish wings.
Before he knows what is going on, he is collapsing onto the grass bank. Rabidly, he scrabbles about in the mud and grass, nearly blind. His head bangs against something solid. Tendril-like whips slap his face, drawing multiple lines of pinpricks from which blood oozes. The pain in his head increases a notch. Greg feels something extremely sharp brush against his face then something splattering his flesh. More blood.
From an observer’s point of view, Greg would look like an upright red blob, barely even human. Between two jagged, sharp objects his foot snags in, clamping then chafing his ankles. They act like vices squeezing his skin, puncturing his flesh. Eventually, the battered man manages to release his shredded ankles. His eyesight partially returns, though still, it seems like he is looking through a great barrier of heat. He is crawling up to the top of the grass bank and he attempts to stand but topples back onto the floor, smacking his head against the hard ground. As he tries again to get to his feet, another bolt of pain jolts through him causing him to lose his balance – and the blindness envelops him. Greg tumbles and hurtles backwards rolling over, again and again.
He spins and falls. Suddenly, cold rushing water engulfs him, until finally, a last shot of pain runs through his brain, fit to explode, as death begins its sickly, dark embrace…
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