I know, I know, I missed posting last week. What can I say? I was busy! (I was at a writing retreat, so yes, I was busy writing.)
Anyway, to make up for it this week I have another story for you from my collection of weird and strange tales Stump and Corpse Meet the Vampire Bride.
Please to enjoy.
(And don’t forget to scroll to the bottom for your free book if you haven’t picked one up yet.)
DRIVE FAST! SHE SAID
There was a story on the local news this morning about a collision between two cars. It happened sometime in the night, on a stretch of isolated country road. There was a brief shot of the wreckage, the two cars a tangled mass of twisted metal and broken glass, leaking black oil across the road. It looked like they’d smashed into each other head on. There were no survivors.
That got me thinking about some friends of mine from another life, sometime around twenty-six, maybe twenty-seven years ago, and a stupid, dangerous thing we did one night. I was seventeen then, and my life consisted of little more than college, mates and girls. Every Friday and Saturday night me and my best mate Tony went out for a few drinks. The town we lived in was small and provincial and very boring, so Tony would drive us over to Blackburn in his dad’s car.
Tony’s dad was pretty cool. I was never sure what he did, but he was always buying and selling stuff, mainly cars, and this one time he bought an old Ford Capri, and the previous owner had painted it red with white stripes down the sides, just like Starsky and Hutch’s Gran Torino. Tony said his dad was always talking about getting a respray, but he reckoned he never would. We all suspected his dad secretly loved those stripes.
Tony was cocky and confident, just like his dad, and girls were drawn to him like iron filings to a magnet. He was everything I wasn’t, but wanted to be.
On this one particular night Tony came to pick me up, he told me he had a new girlfriend, one I’d never met. I had a girlfriend too. Susan and I had been going steady for about six months by then. She was okay, but nothing like Tony’s girls.
We drove over to the next town to pick his new girlfriend up.
Karen was a looker. Long, blond hair, slim figure and the kind of permanent ‘come here’ expression that turned men’s legs to jelly. I remember she had on a pair of tight jeans, long black boots, a close fitting sweater and a leather jacket.
And the scarf. I remember that scarf.
“Wow,” she said, as she climbed in the car. “This is cool. Where are we going?”
Susan and I were sitting in the back. I remember looking too long at Karen, wondering when she was going to turn and say hello to us, or if Tony was going to introduce us. Susan punched me on the leg and frowned at me. I couldn’t help myself, Tony had lucked out in a big way, Karen was a stunner.
On the drive to Blackburn, Tony took the country route. I couldn’t work out why at first. Karen was talking away, waving her hands around and telling us about the films she had seen, and the music she listened to, and the places she was going to go. It was all pretty far out stuff, none of it familiar to our unsophisticated, boring lives. She talked about Mick Jagger in Performance, and David Lynch’s Eraserhead and Vanishing Point. She talked a lot about Vanishing Point.
There’s a long stretch of straight road through the Pendle Forest nicknamed The Broadway by the locals, on account of how wide and long it is. It was late November, and dark already as Tony pushed the Capri’s speed up. I was aware of the dark shapes of the trees chasing past us in a shadowed blur. Tony had the car’s headlights on main beam, the twin lights converging to cut through the darkness and illuminate the road ahead.
“Hey, watch this,” Tony said, and then flicked the lights off.
Susan screamed and grabbed my hand as we hurtled through the darkness. I don’t remember how fast we were driving, but it felt fast enough, maybe forty or fifty miles an hour. Enough to do some serious damage to the car, and us, if we left the road and smashed into the trees.
“Tony, don’t be an idiot,” I said. “Switch the bloody lights back on.”
“What’s wrong, Mark, are you scared?” he said, laughing.
But he switched the lights on.
Susan told him he was being stupid, and not to do it again.
Karen didn’t say anything, but I saw her drape a hand across Tony’s left thigh, and leave it there.
I don’t remember much about the evening, where we went or what we talked about. We all had a few drinks, including Tony. This was just before the drink driving campaign really kicked into gear, and nobody thought too much of sinking a few pints and then getting behind the wheel of a car.
As we walked across the car park at closing time, Tony lit up a cigarette and took a deep drag. Smoke billowed from his mouth and clouded his face for a moment.
He offered the pack around. Susan didn’t like me smoking, so I shook my head. Karen took one and Tony lit it for her. She walked over to the Capri, to the driver’s door, and leant against it, looking at Tony through the smoke drifting past her eyes.
“You’re on the wrong side, babe,” Tony said.
“I know,” she said.
I’ll never forget her, standing there like that, her bottom against the car door, her one arm resting across her midriff, the other hand holding her cigarette casually between two fingers in front of her mouth. She looked stunning, like a movie star. Desire and jealousy and guilt twisted like snakes in my stomach. I didn’t like myself for what I felt, but Susan was like a sack of potatoes compared to my best mate’s new girl.
“That thing you did,” she said. “On the drive over here, when you switched the lights off.”
“That stupid thing he did,” Susan said.
“Yeah, what about it?” Tony said, and grinned. “Did it scare you?”
“No,” she said. “I liked it.”
I think that answer threw him a bit. He took another drag on his cigarette.
“Well I didn’t like it,” Susan said, and put her arm through mine. “I thought it was horrible and dangerous. You could have killed us all.”
“Yeah, well, good,” he said, answering Karen, not even glancing at Susan. “I’ve done it before you know, plenty of times. It’s easy really, you just gotta keep driving straight.”
“How about we make it more fun on the way back?” Karen said.
“What do you mean?” Tony said, flicking a glance at me.
“Why don’t we just go home?” I said. “I’m getting cold out here.”
Karen ignored me, just holding Tony steady in that cool gaze of hers.
“Why don’t you do it again on the way back? But this time blind. Really blind.”
Tony flicked ash off his cigarette, the sparks bright against the darkness.
“I already did that. I couldn’t see a bloody thing without the lights on, could I? I was blind as a bat.”
“Why don’t you do it again?” Karen said, smoke billowing from her lips. “Blindfolded?”
“Nah, don’t be stupid,” Tony said.
Karen gazed at him and said nothing.
“You’re having a laugh, right?”
“No, I’m serious,” she said. “I’ll blindfold you, and we’ll see how well you can drive along that road, how fast you can go, truly blind.”
Tony looked at her, his brow furrowed.
“Tony?” Susan said. “You’re not…?”
“No, I’m not,” he said, dropping the cigarette on the tarmac and grinding it out under the heel of his shoe. “It’s a bloody stupid idea.”
Karen smiled and walked away from the driver’s door. Tony unlocked the car and me and Susan climbed in the back. No one said anything.
Tony could have gone the straight way back, but he didn’t. He took the scenic route again. It was cold in the car and Susan cuddled up to me, trying to keep warm. I looked out of the front windscreen, at the headlights hitting the dark, tarmac road, at the white line disappearing beside us.
When we turned onto The Broadway, Karen spoke, breaking the long silence.
“Slow down,” she said. “Pull over.”
Tony glanced at Karen and pulled the car over onto the grass verge. He left the engine running, the lights on highlighting the trees, the road disappearing into the inky blackness.
“What?” he said.
“You know what,” Karen said, her hand on his thigh again.
Tony shifted in his seat, the leather squeaking beneath his weight.
“You’re too scared,” she said, and took her hand off his thigh.
Tony looked at her, both hands still on the steering wheel.
She unwound her scarf and held it to her face, against her mouth and nose, and she breathed in deep and then held it out to Tony.
“You can use this as a blindfold,” she said.
Her hand was on his leg again, but she had moved it up, near his crotch. With her index finger she was tracing a tiny little circle over and over again, round and round on his thigh.
“Tony?” Susan said, stirring beside me. I think she might have dozed off slightly. “You’re not going to do it, are you?”
Tony didn’t answer. He gripped the steering wheel, looking at the scarf hanging from Karen’s hand.
“It’s a stupid idea,” he said, at last.
“Maybe it is,” Karen said. “Or maybe it’s a beautiful idea, a glorious idea. Haven’t you ever wanted to let go, to lose control and live right on the edge? And later, when we get back to mine, we can lose control again, just the two of us.”
Tony glanced at Karen, then back at the scarf. He swallowed, the gulp audible in the silence. I could tell he was thinking about it now, seriously considering it. Nothing had passed us in either direction while we had been idling here. He could pull the car out into the middle of the road, give himself plenty of room.
All he’d have to do was keep straight.
“All right,” he said, looking at Karen. “Let’s do it.”
Karen squealed and clapped her hands. Tony put the car into first gear and pulled out onto the middle of the road, the white line disappearing dead centre under the bonnet. He took a few moments lining the car up as straight as he could, and pulled the handbrake on.
“I don’t believe this,” Susan was saying, shaking her head. “Mark, stop him, you’re his best mate, stop him.”
“I can’t do anything,” I said.
“I’m getting out,” Susan said, pushing at Karen’s seat back, even though she was still sitting there. “Let me out, I’m not staying here for this madness, come on, Mark, we’re getting out.”
Karen climbed out of the car and folded the seat down. Susan got out and stuck her head back inside.
“Come on, Mark,” she said.
I looked at the road ahead of us, still lit up in the Capri’s twin beams. I looked at Tony, still gripping the steering wheel in both hands, staring ahead like a man transfixed. What would it be like, I wondered, to sit here in the back with a blindfolded driver in charge of the car? Would I feel terrified, or perhaps would it be somehow exhilarating?
“I’m staying here,” I said.
“What’s got into you tonight? You’re all cracked,” Susan said and walked away. Karen climbed back into the car.
Without another word she wound her scarf around Tony’s head, over his eyes, and knotted it tight.
“Drive fast,” she whispered into his ear. “Drive as fast as you can.”
Tony shoved the gearstick into first and let the handbrake off and edged the car forward. We drove past Susan, walking in the same direction.
Tony shifted up into second. We were still heading straight down the centre line. Karen sat sideways in her seat, not looking out of the windscreen, but looking at Tony all the time.
He shifted up into third and I started feeling scared. We were only doing twenty-five but it felt faster. I looked around for something to hold onto, and grabbed the seatbacks in front of me.
Tony shifted up into fourth. I caught a glimpse of the speedometer, edging thirty-five, just as Karen leaned across and flicked off the headlights.
Plunged into darkness it seemed to me that the engine’s growl suddenly grew louder, its note continuing to rise as Tony accelerated. I sensed the trees on either side of us flying past, felt the cold air streaming through the open windows, hitting me in the face, whipping my hair back.
And I felt alive. Incredibly, dangerously, wonderfully alive.
Suddenly the car bucked and lurched, and the engine roared. Tony screamed, swore I think, and I hit my head on the roof and landed on my back as the car bounced over the uneven ground and the engine stalled. We came to a sudden, lurching halt, the car tilting to one side.
Apart from the ticking of the cooling engine everything was silent. Tony flicked on the headlights. We had rolled to a halt on the side of the road, in the forest. There were trees either side and in front of us. I took a deep, shaky breath.
“Everyone all right?” Tony said. He looked back at me. He’d already removed the blindfold and it lay curled in his lap. He looked scared.
I nodded, too shocked to speak.
Karen said nothing, but leaned across the gear stick and pulled Tony to her. Her hand grabbed his crotch and she kissed him long and hard. I looked away and folded my arms, jamming my trembling hands under my armpits.
We managed to push the car back onto the road. The bodywork had suffered some scratches and dents, but otherwise seemed fine. We had had a lucky escape.
We drove back and picked Susan up. On the drive home nobody spoke. Tony dropped us off first, and then took Karen back to hers where, he told me later, he spent the night.
We all drifted apart after that. Susan and I split up the next day, she couldn’t forgive me for leaving her by the side of the road in the middle of the night. We had come back for her, but still, she had a point.
Tony and Karen lasted a few intense, tempestuous months before they split up. She left for university, and we never saw her again.
Tony and I went our separate ways too, and lost contact. I heard recently that he died of a heart attack, a couple of years back.
It’s funny, but I haven’t thought of Karen, or that night, in many years. But seeing that story on the news brought it all back. In the wreckage of the one car they found two bodies, a female passenger and a male driver.
The man was wearing a blindfold.
Hey, I hope you enjoyed that. There’s more where that came from in Population:DEAD! and other weird tales of horror and suspense. Just click the link below to get your free book, plus the first season of Joe Coffin in its entirety!
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