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A short story By Jack Bush
The blaring of the horn shocks Susan awake. Snapping her eyes open, she is instantly blinded by the headlights of the oncoming truck. Going only by instinct, she wrenches the steering wheel, swerving the car back to her side of the road, as the truck passes only inches from her wing mirror and the blaring horn echoes into the night, mixed with a shout of profanity from the driver. Susan eases her foot off the gas pedal, slowing her speed as she gasps in a lungful of air and lets it out with a long sigh. ‘Jesus girl, what you trying to do?’ she mutters to herself. Checking her rearview mirror for traffic, she sees none and slows down all the more. She really needs to get some rest, but there had been no turn-off’s or rest-stop’s for some time now. None that she had see, anyway. Susan scans the highway ahead, mostly only seeing the twin cone of light coming from her full-beams; the borders to the side of the road vaguely visible in the gloom of night. The early hours of the morning was normally her favourite time to drive, as there was always very little congestion and night drives always held a kind of peacefulness for Susan. Almost as if each road was constructed solely for her, and the headlights were a guiding torch leading Susan to her sought after destination. Winding down her side window, Susan allows the cool night air to enter the car and further waken her up from the slumber which seemed hell-bent on self destruction only moments ago. Glancing out the window, she sees the rugged silhouette of the hillsides racing up and down the horizon, with the backdrop being a pitch-black sky and brilliantly white moon. Susan inhaled a deep breath and smiled. This was solitude, peacefulness and beauty combined into one. And she loved it. But she also knew she needed to take a break. Susan knew she was never going to make it home without those eyelids of hers going southwards again. She sometimes wished her parents didn’t stay so far away, but most of the time she saw it as a blessing, cause the one thing she did enjoy, was her own space. And the one thing Susan knew for sure was that if her father lived anywhere nearer, space is the one thing she wouldn’t have. He dotted over her like she was still 10 years old, which was nice in small doses, but had the proximity been any closer, he’d never be away from her house, fussing around her any chance he could get. Susan laughs out loud at the thought. With the smile still on her face, Susan open the glove-box and takes out a pack of cigarettes, one-handedly, plucking one out of the cardboard packet and jabbing it between her lips. Punching in the cigarette lighter with her index finger, something catches her eye at the side of the road in the distance. A small rest-stop comes into view, with a picnic table and bench next to it. Susan sighs with relief and pulls over into it, shutting off the engine and flicking off the headlights of the car. Darkness suddenly close round her, and she darts a hand up to the overhead light, bathing her in light again. That’s better.
It’s amazing the difference in security between being in motion to standing stationary while in the dead of night, she thinks. The cigarette lighter pops out, stunning her out of her train of thought and almost making her jump. Shaking her head at herself, Susan pulls out the small cylinder of red hot metal and lights the smoke dangling between her lips, and inhales deeply, allowing the blue mist to trail out on the exhale. Poking the lighter back into its circular hole, she sits back, reclining her seat an extra couple of inches and stares out the glass sunroof at the night sky beyond. The stars sparkle brightly in the heaven, and she realises you don’t notice them so much in the city, only in the middle of nowhere do they shine so bright. The reason we never see them, is because we’re too busy trying to get out of the middle of nowhere in the first place. Again, Susan chuckles at her musing. Then she hears it for the first time. A gently tap from somewhere under the car. Maybe just the car settling after all the miles I’ve done, Susan thinks. Do car’s settled, or is that just houses? It comes again, a little louder this time, and Susan slowly pulls herself back into an upright position in her seat, eyes now fully alert, and the window is the first thing to be closed. Checking the wing and rearview mirrors is useless, as the darkness makes it impossible to see anything, unless she puts her lights on. But something inside her tells her it might be better if she can’t see what’s making the noise. The tap then becomes a scratching noise. Scraping along the bottom of her car, like a steel claw over metal. Something’s beneath you, her mind screams. Enough is enough. Susan starts the car. The engine revs to life on the first turn of the key, and for a second, she hesitates about putting on the light, but throws caution to the wind and twists the lever, bursting the cones of illumination out in front of her again. She sees nothing daunting, just the grassy bank of the roadside and the smooth asphalt of the street itself. That’s when the punch comes from below. It thuds off the bottom of the car and seems to vibrate round the whole structure. ‘Yeah, fuck you too.’ Says Susan, as she steps on the gas. The engine goes dead. The lights go out. Susan is once again, surrounded by darkness. All she can hear is the whimpers escaping from her mouth with each troubled breath. Putting a hand to her mouth to try and steady her breathing, she surveys the world outside her car, checking the locks are down at the same time. With the car secure and her night-vision leaving her blind, Susan just sits there, panicked into thoughtlessness; her mind a blank. Then the scratching starts again. Starting almost under her seat, and working its way to the rear of the car, with the same screeching sound. Could it be fingernails?
The thought surprises Susan. How could someone be under her car?! It made no sense, no sense at all. But one thing was for sure. “Something” was under her car, and she really didn’t give a shit about identification, Susan just wanted to put some distance between herself and whatever the hell it is. She turns the ignition key again. The car grumbles then dies. ‘Shit!’ Susan whispers, in a high pitched whine. Then something rocks the car, pushing it from below, causing Susan to yelp out loud. She could tell that the main area of motion was coming from the back of the automobile, and regardless how little she wants to, her head begins to turn in that direction, seeking the unseen threat through the back window. All the windows of the car have steamed up with the lack of ventilation, so visibility is the last thing to help Susan in her plight. But still, she continues to stare. She quickly reason with herself, that if she can’t see out, then nothing can see in. Susan begins to climb over the front seat and into the back, as quietly as she can; the rear window acting like a magnet to her curiosity. The movement and sounds from beneath had all but stopped now, and Susan was beginning to think it was maybe just some animal that had got trapped under there while she was parking up for the night. She eased her face closer to the back window. The palm of a hand slammed on the glass. Susan screamed and jerks into the back of the front seats. Scrambling back over them, she turns the ignition key again. Nothing. Glancing in the rearview mirror, she watches in terror as the hand glides down the glass, leaving a streak of blood behind it. She tries the key again. ‘Please!’ The car starts. Susan throws it into first gear and stomps on the gas. The car shoot forward, skidding back onto the road. A roar is the departing noise left to her by the mysterious person behind, but she doesn’t stop to look back, just pushes the pedal further to the floor. With adrenaline pumping through her vain, slumber is the last thing to trouble her on the way home, and she doesn’t go beneath 60MPH the whole journey. Susan finally pulls into her driveway around 2.10am. The rest of her street is in silence, and the full moon is still the only light in the night sky to shine down on her. She hoped that daylight would wash away the terror which still dwelled within her, but she feared that may not be the case. Stepping out of the car, she locks the door and walks round the rear, making her way to the front entrance of her house. Then she stops dead. Susan’s eyes are rooted to where the licence plate should be, but its gone.
Thinking her eyes maybe playing tricks on her in the gloom, she crouches down for a better look. All that remains is an empty space where the plate once was. And a severed hand jammed behind the bumper. Susan stifles a scream and falls back on her butt, scurrying away from the macabre sight. Scrambling to her feet, Susan runs to the front door and enters her house, slamming the door on the horror behind her. Slapping the hall lights on, she stands in stunned silence. I’m home now, thinks Susan, its over. Hurrying to the bathroom, she throws off her clothes and stands under the hot shower, hoping that the burning water can wash away the nightmare that she knew were still to come. Afterwards, she heads straight to bed, and under the covers. Safe. Just like a scared little child in the night. Under the covers were the safest place to be. It wasn’t long before slumber, once again found her. As Susan shields her eyes from the morning sunlight, she stretches one arm and then the other. Morning had finally come to restore order. As the sudden realisation of the previous night hit her, a sickly feeling crawls through her stomach. It over, she mutters to herself. Resting her head back down on the pillow, she sighs. Then she hears a tapping from beneath her bed. Susan’s eyes open wide. No, this must be a dream, her mind shouts! The tapping comes again, as if to reassure her this is no dream. She closes her eyes tight; so much so, she can see stars dancing behind her eyelids. Then she hears something fall over under the bed. Something small and light. With eyes still close, she very slowly reaches a hand down the side of the bed. This is nuts, she thinks. It must just be something from the bedside table that I unsteadied while waking. Her fingertips touch the soft carpet of the floor and feel around. Then they touch something. Something that isn’t carpet. Something cold and hard to the touch. Finding the corner of it, she picks it up and peers over the edge of the bed, finally opening her eyes. Susan wishes she had kept them close. In her hand is the missing license plate. Whipping herself fully back into bed, she almost screams. Clasping her free hand over her mouth, Susan’s eyes bulge in pure terror. Then, from under the bed comes a voice. ‘Gimme back my hand……..’ Susan’s scream shatters the beautiful morning sunshine………..
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