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The End

31st December 2019
(Short Story)

 

Nathan Johnson bemoaned the size of the car he’d rented. With his six-foot-four-inches height, the tiny Fiat which he’d obtained, saving himself money against a larger saloon which would have been much more comfortable, was one of the worst decisions he’d made of late.  

The sound of the small engine whined against that of the rain which pelted the windscreen. The wipers frantically swept back and forth, but the relentless downpour gave them little respite or improved visibility for long before the glass was covered again in a film of opaque liquid. 

The road was winding and, whilst Nathan had travelled it many times, in the dark and with the storm raging he’d frequently lost his bearings and had a couple of near misses with oncoming traffic and the barrier preventing transition to the valley below. 

“Thank god for rumble-strips!” He’d yelled when the uneven surface at the edge of the road warned he’d veered too far to the side of the tarmac.  

Slowing down made no difference to his visibility or feeling of safety. Already running late, having promised his partner he’d be on time “this time”, he’d broken the speed limit several times trying to reduce the hour at which he’d arrived before the storm had started. 

Lightning flashed and fleetingly lit up the road ahead. Trees lining the roadside swayed back and forth in the wind which whipped the leaves from their branches in such quantities that the road became a quagmire of sludge beneath the tyres of Nathan’s car as it continued to plough through the weather.  

The volume of water running down from the hill that the road ran through, caused lakes of thin, shallow puddles across the smooth road surface. Twice, and almost unseen, Nathan’s car had skated across, aquaplaning, such hazards. Fortunately, on the preceding times this occurred, Nathan hadn’t been accelerating and the car moved through the fluid obstacle unhindered and unwaveringly.  

But now, with the wind having increased in its intensity, the leaves torn from the trees settled on the slick surface and created a greasy undulating mass. When Nathan’s car hit the wash, as it spread across the entire road surface, he was gunning the car to take on the rising ground. The wheels spun as they lost traction between the leaves upon the pool of water and the tarmac. Turning the steering wheel brought no change in direction as Nathan struggled to maintain control of the car. It moved, almost silently save for the revving of the small engine, across the leaf-sodden pool and towards the precipice. Nathan readied for the inevitable crash that would see the little car hit the barrier.  

The barrier, metal but showing signs of wear due to age, shook in the wind. The four bolts holding it in place sheared as the car hit the cross-section and the barrier buckled around the front of the car, doing little to yield or slow it from moving over the edge and down the hillside.  

Nathan breathed a deep breath as the car left the ground and entered the air, the engine suddenly increasing its whine as the wheels spun freely in the open space that was below them. There was a bang as the airbag deployed, which forced Nathan’s head back, like a whip recoiling from the taming of a wild beast. His ribs crashed into the bottom of the steering wheel, one breaking and piercing his left lung, as the car hit the deck and rolled forward, somersaulting, before coming to rest, upside-down, against a tree.  

The rain continued to spatter against the underside of the vehicle, hissing as it met the blisteringly-hot exhaust. Smoke and steam billowed from the car but was soon dispersed by the ferocious wind. After a few moments, as the engine cooled under the unremitting deluge, the wafting ceased.  

Nathan twisted his body, allowing him to move his legs enough so he could release himself from the seatbelt that held him upside-down inside the car. His height prevented him from moving too much within the confines of the Fiat, as the clip released from its position of one of three points of restraint. He pushed open the car door and slid out. He stood, for a moment, looking at the crumbled mass of machinery and bodywork. The car was totalled.  

The rain continued to pour as Nathan started back towards the road, opting to move diagonally upwards across the uneven terrain to make his journey back to more solid ground easier. Despite it being dark, he was surprised how accustomed he was to the lack of light in the area.  

Within a few minutes, he reached the road. He walked up the hill to the point where his car had left the road. Save for the missing barrier, there were no signs of anything untoward having occurred. 

He continued walking along the road, up the remainder of the hill, in the hope of flagging someone down or finding a residence or business from where he could contact the emergency services to let them know of the accident. The sound of a car from behind caught his attention but he was too late, due to the noise of the rain and wind, to adequately indicate to them he needed their assistance. The car passed him, at a distance he thought was dangerously close. So close, he felt his coat ruffle in the slipstream as it passed.  

“F*ck you!” He yelled. “F*ck you very much!”  

Nathan continued walking. The rain, though hard and icy cold, didn’t bother him as much as it ordinarily would, he thought. He surmised it was probably as a result of him being so wet already that the droplets made no further impact upon him. 

Another car came by. Again, it passed him within inches. He wondered if the weather and lack of visibility, such as he’d experienced when driving, was making it difficult to see against the gloomy backdrop of dark clouds and forest trees that lined the road. He was, after all, dressed in all-black clothes. A long, leather, trench coat, over a dark pair of jeans, dark boots and a dark t-shirt. He searched his pockets for a torch which he sometimes carried but found nothing. He’d have to have his wits about him to ensure he didn’t get run over. As he continued up the hill, he checked behind him every few steps.  

The next car coming up the hill appeared to be struggling to make the ascent. The engine raced and then died, then was kicked into life again, making it lurch forward through the rain which glistened as it passed in front of the headlamps.  

Nathan bent down as the car drew alongside him and peered into the vehicle. The driver was hunched over the steering wheel, as if urging the car on. 

“Come on!” The driver shouted.  

“Can you give me a lift?” Nathan yelled.  

“I can’t stop! I just can’t stop! Not today!!” The driver exclaimed. 

“Please? I’ve had an accident.” Nathan pleaded, but the driver ignored his desperate situation and drove the car forward. Nathan watched as the car lurched again. It then seemed to find its rhythm and continued smoothly onwards, accelerating as it did so, as the road flattened.  

“Thanks for nothing!” Nathan yelled, exasperated. 

Nathan walked for another two miles, failing miserably in his attempts to get a lift. Not a single car stopped. One slowed but seemed to speed up once Nathan smiled at the driver and his passenger. When Nathan saw the car pull into a lay-by up ahead, he was joyous.  

“At last!” He said, quickening his pace towards the now-parked car.  

He drew alongside the driver’s window and leant down. The driver, a man in his forties, was sat with his head tilted back and his eyes closed. Nathan waited a moment for the driver to sense he was there and to wind down the window, so he could explain his predicament. As he waited, he realised something was in the man’s lap. Then he realised the “something” was the head of the passenger he’d seen. It was bobbing up and down as the couple indulged in some roadside fellatio. Nathan came to the comprehension the couple hadn’t stopped for him and continued onwards, trudging his way back onto the road to resume his turgid journey. 

After what seemed like hours of walking, and just as the rain started to ease, Nathan came across a truck-stop. He wandered around the trucks, hoping to see one of the drivers and getting a lift onwards, or at least being able to utilise one of the citizen band radios to call for help.  

A young woman, pretty despite her ramshackle appearance, also appeared to be looking for drivers. Nathan saw that he and the woman spied one at about the same time. Nathan was keen to ensure he wouldn’t miss out on any chance, so matched the woman’s pace as she moved up to the trucker who was checking his vehicle over.  

“Any chance of a ride?” Nathan said, at the same time as the woman asked for a lift. 

The trucker looked over.  

“Sure.” He said and pulled open the truck’s door. Nathan leapt forward and climbed into the cab, moving past the driving position to the far side of the vehicle’s interior. The woman climbed into the cab and sat beside Nathan. The trucker, with a broad grin on his face, climbed in and shut the door. He turned the key and the engine of the huge machine sprung into life a moment later. The driver checked his mirrors and pushed the vehicle’s gear lever and released the clutch. The engine strained as it started to take up the weight of the load behind it, and the trucker gunned the accelerator, smoothly changing up the gears, to give the truck its momentum. The truck moved out of the truck-stop parking area and onto the main carriageway, gathering speed as it did so. 

Nathan loved the high-up viewpoint of the cab. The road ahead seemed so much more visible from this height, especially relative to the restricted view he’d had in the tiny Fiat. They all sat in silence, save for the country and western tunes that filled the cab with twanging sounds of guitar as a male singer told his tale of a woman and his love for her and a feeling of unrequitedness. As he looked about the cab, he realised the truck driver was looking over the woman in a way that seemed overtly sexual. Before he could get the driver’s attention, to let him know of his disdain, the driver placed his hand on the woman’s thigh, moving it upwards.  

“What do you think you’re doing?” The woman snapped.  

“Come on doll,” The driver said, pushing his hand higher. “Ride for a ride.” He stated matter-of-factly.  

“I’m not that kind of girl.” The woman replied, pushing the man’s hand away. Nathan felt very uncomfortable at the driver’s gall but was glad the woman had defended her virtue. Though it seemed in vain as the driver pushed his hand directly onto the woman’s private area.  

“F*ck off!” The woman yelled, sweeping the truck driver’s hand away, and punching him in the jaw. Despite her waif-like appearance the punch had clearly landed well. The driver lurched to one side with the shock and pain of the jab. As he did so, his other hand wrenched at the steering wheel and the truck moved to the opposite side of the road. Trying to recover control of the huge rig, the driver grappled with the steering wheel, braking hard. But it was too late and the manoeuvre to counter the error was too violent and the vehicle started to jack-knife. The cab started moving sideways, as the huge and heavy load behind it gained momentum and forced the vehicle across the road and towards the bend, around which another truck, a petrol tanker, was coming. The oncoming truck’s cab struck the driver’s side and the sexually predatory trucker was flung through the door window and into the gap between the cab and the load, disappearing amidst a wrenching of blood, skin and bone a split-second later under the wheels of the oncoming rig.  

The driverless cab became released from its load, as the other truck tore into the body of the errant vehicle. With its releasing it was flung forward, hitting the barrier which, incredibly, held firm. The woman and Nathan were flung forward as inertia carried them, just as the windscreen shattered from the impact with the barrier. Nathan’s voyage through the air and into lush grass was longer than the woman’s which ended abruptly as she hit a tree head-on. Her body, lifeless, landing in a crumpled heap at the base of the stalwart plant.  

Nathan picked himself up just as the two trucks exploded in a huge fireball, the force of which flung him backwards. As he picked himself up again, he saw the flailing limbs of the driver of the other truck seemingly reach out towards him, then fall and become still as the fire engulfed the body and insides of the cab.  

Nathan stood looking at the carnage before him. Part of him felt like getting away from the scene, but his conscience suggested he should wait for the emergency services and explain what happened.  

He pondered on what to do for the best. He still needed to get home and his journey had already been curtailed by two unfortunate events. He asked himself if he could afford the time. He even thought about the possibility that a kind member of the emergency services might assist him on his way home, though thought this would be doubtful.  

He waited. The rain started afresh and soon doused the flames that, curiously, had afforded him little warmth against the chill of the night air. The mangled metal hissed and creaked as the rain splashed upon it, causing it to wrench against itself noisily as it contracted. After a few minutes, there was relative quiet. The silhouette of the trucks, conjoined in a bizarre coming together, was just about discernible against the dark clouds that brought further storms.  

“I could be out here hours.” Nathan said to himself. He decided to continue onwards. Hoping his passage would soon lead him to civilisation of some description whereby he could alert the authorities and get something warm to eat and drink.  

After around thirty minutes he came to a crossroads. There were no signs indicating what lay in each direction and Nathan couldn’t recall the junction from his previous trips along the route he’d taken. He surmised it was because, when driving, he’d been travelling faster than that which had brought him there today and simply hadn’t noticed it.  

He continued directly across, cursing the rain which now seemed to be heavier, following the route he’d been on previously. Half a mile further on, he came across a house. He walked up the path to the porchway, glad of the temporary respite from the rain which had been pelting his face. The porch looked like it had seen better days. Flaking paint, cracked windows and broken tiles suggested it had not been maintained in quite some time. He banged upon the door, which creaked and moved open slightly.  

“Hello?” He called out, nudging the door open wider. There was no response.  

Nathan pushed the door fully open and stepped inside. 

“Anyone here?” He called out. Again, there was no reply.  

Inside, the house smelt musty. He stepped fully into the hallway. His eyes were accustomed to the darkness and. in the dim light. he saw rivulets of water as they ran down the walls, soaking into the threadbare carpet, making pools which rose to the surface of the shag with each step he took.  Half-way along, he came to a door. He knocked on it and then turned the handle to open it, entering what he presumed was the main lounge. Inside, rain was falling. Despite there being a ceiling, the “rain” fell and splashed against a broken coffee table and large sofa that was worn and showing signs of animal attack that revealed the bright yellow sponge insides. The ceiling was peppered with missing pieces of artexed covering and through each of the gaps the water gathered then dripped. Nathan dreaded to think of the state of the upstairs, if the downstairs was this damaged. 

He left the lounge and entered the kitchen, set at the end of the hallway. A fridge, without a door, stood in one corner, and a cooker, upturned, sat in another. The sink and work surfaces had been removed, leaving a jungle of pipes and cables rising from the ground but serving no function.  

“Such a waste.” Nathan said aloud. He hated the thought of perfectly decent properties being left to ruin. To gradually, as the elements took their toll, disintegrate under the ravages of time.  

Nathan spied a phone attached to the wall of the kitchen. He lifted the receiver and placed it to his ear, hoping to hear a dialling tone. Only a sound, like waves gently crashing on a beach, as his ear was cupped by the earpiece, in the same way a conch shell produces the same, could be heard. He returned the handset of the phone to the hook and watched as the spiral cable wound back and forth upon itself, like two snakes embroiled in a bitter embrace, as it swung and settled back into place. 

Frustrated, Nathan made to leave the house. As he made his way back to the front door, the wind rose in intensity, making a howling noise as it met the outsides of the property. The house creaked with the onslaught and Nathan was sure he saw the opening he was heading towards lurch to one side. He stopped, momentarily, as a noise, like that of something crashing through a wall, sounded throughout. Realising the house was either collapsing in on itself or being crushed by a tree felled by the storm, Nathan started running towards the exit. The ceiling crashed down before he reached it, burying him beneath it.  

After a few moments, Nathan moved his arms and legs to push against his imprisonment beneath the wooden joists, plaster and ceiling tiles which covered his person. He lifted himself up, pushing and pulling this way and that to release himself from the detritus of the house that now littered the hallway. The house groaned again as a fresh gust shook it once more. Fearing a further collapse, Nathan quickly pushed past the debris and managed to escape the house. He was no more than a few feet away, when the entire structure fell in upon itself. Dust billowed out as the ceilings were crushed under the roof and walls which showed no resistance to their gravitational demise.  

Nathan stood still until the dust cleared and settled, brushing himself down and being glad of the rain’s effect upon him to aid in removing the grey matter that he’d become covered in. The wind whipped the dust particles around him until the moisture attaching to each made their flight untenable and they joined the muddied earth on the floor below. 

Nathan sighed heavily. He trudged back to the road and continued walking along it.  

He walked, and walked, and walked. Despite the rain, the wind and the distance he’d transported himself over, he felt no tiredness. He felt “normal”, he thought. Which, considering what he’d been through, he suggested to himself, was amazing. 

“All those hours in the gym paying off.” He said to himself gleefully. 

After he’d walked what he figured was several miles, he stopped and looked around at the scenery. Rolling fields, surrounded by hedgerow and occasionally a line of trees, moved like the surface of a lake after a swan had passed across it. Undulating softly, almost hypnotically, in the breeze. He surveyed the countryside and tried to pick out any features he could recognise. He remembered his sat-nav could be set to highlight POI’s - Points of Interest – but there was nothing that stood out. Nothing distinguishable. Just miles and miles of lolling acreage in each direction. He really was in the middle of nowhere, it seemed. 

Nathan sighed again. More wearily this time. He shrugged his shoulders and continued onwards. Feeling for certain he’d soon come across something recognisable and distinct that would confirm he was nearing home. 

He tried to work out how long he’d been walking. The darkness around him seemed as if it was enveloping the sky. He couldn’t make out much more than a few hundred yards. Everything further than that distance seemed to disappear into a misty, ethereal darkness. It reminded him of certain video games he’d played, which didn’t render the infinite scenery to save on programming and to help guide the player through a pre-ordained path. It was hard to tell if he’d walked hours or if he’d even walked into a new day. The clouds, heavy, pendulous, allowed little light to permeate, so the sense of night coming and releasing itself to the dawn was obscured, if it had indeed arrived and left.  

Then he heard voices. Cheerful, friendly, hearty voices. The sound of laughter came to him. Followed by faint conversation that he couldn’t quite make out, from people ahead, somewhere, talking.  

He pushed himself on, quickening his pace.  

Then there was a warmth. He felt it the moment he saw it. A light. Ahead. Yellow, comforting, and behind the windows of a large building. An inn. A pub. A hostelry he recognised as one which he’d lunched at previously. One where he’d been a regular for many years. So long, the landlord and other staff knew his choice of tipple and would start pouring it the moment he entered. One where some had said he was “part of the furniture” because he’d been frequenting the establishment so long.  

He looked skyward. 

“Thank you.” He said aloud.  

Nathan entered the pub.  

Inside, people were gathered in small groups. He’d seen the pub busy in previous times, but the people on those occasions were never gathered together in little pockets like they were here today. It was obvious something was going on. Something away from the norm of what he was used to when he used to attend and imbibe.  

He made his way through the people who were engaged deeply in their conversations with one another. He turned this way and that, trying to make his way to his regular seat at the bar. But each time he passed one group, another seemed to block his path and had to be navigated around.  

Finally, he reached the bar. There, he found the reason for the crowds that were assembled. 

Positioned to one side was a large oak coffin. He realised virtually all in attendance were dressed in black. It was a wake. He felt guilty for invading their grief, but relieved to see a pint of his favourite beer already in place on the bar for his arrival. He lifted the glass and drank steadily, almost finishing it in one go.  

He finished the pint, placed the glass back on the bar and looked around the room once more. He thought it was funny how different being dressed all in black made people look. Women wore veils, hiding their features so he was unable to ascertain the identity of any of them. He felt like he recognised some of the men but, due to their attire and their restyled haircuts, he couldn’t be sure.  

The bar staff seemed busy attending to others, so he didn’t think his glass would be topped up any time soon. Ordinarily, it would be topped up the moment he’d finished.  

Nathan sidled up to one of the women standing near the coffin.  

“Who passed?” He asked.  

The woman broke down in front of him. Her tears dropping onto her black top, nestling there for a moment like perfect globes of glass, before disappearing into the fabric.  

“I’m so sorry.” Nathan said, as the woman was comforted by another and led away.  

The path now cleared, Nathan moved towards the coffin to ascertain the identity of the dead. He looked at the shiny, gold plaque that was screwed into the lid of the coffin and glinted in the weak light coming from the ceiling rings. Two words were etched into it. The name of the deceased. Nathan looked closer. Waiting for his eyes to focus in the dim light. Then the name came into sharp relief: 

Nathan Johnson. 

“What the...” He said aloud. He looked around the room. Everyone present seemed totally engaged with someone else.  

“Is this some kind of joke?” Nathan said loudly.  

“Some b*stard drank his pint.” Nathan heard the landlord say. He looked towards the bar to see the landlord pouring a fresh pint and placing it on the bar. In the same position as before. 

The landlord then raised another glass, shouting out across the room, “To Nathan!”  

Almost instantly, the response from everyone was the same. “To Nathan!” They all exclaimed.  

“Seriously, this isn’t funny.” Nathan said. But no-one responded to him. Nathan moved towards the bar.  

“John!” He yelled at the landlord. The landlord tapped his glass against the pint that was on the bar.  

“Cheers big fella,” He said. “Rest in peace.”  

“What?” Nathan yelled. The landlord turned away and started moving along the bar. Nathan picked up the pint. He threw it against the row of optics fastened to the wall, beset with mirrors, behind the bar. The glass smashed, but Nathan heard no sound.  

Then he saw the reflection in the mirror.  The room, full of people dressed in black, milling around, in a state of mourning. He heard the voices of two of them as they passed by behind him. He turned to listen to their conversation. 

“Left the road, barrier didn’t hold. Impact crushed his ribs into his lungs. He would have drowned in his own blood if he’d still been alive after the crash.” One said.  

“Poor Nathan. I wonder if he was still alive after the airbag broke his neck.” The other said. 

“Busy night for the services, what with the truck smash and all.” The first continued. 

“Was a miserable night. No-one should have been out in that.” The second mourner said. 

Nathan turned back to the bar. He looked across it and into the mirror again. The reflection showed what he had seen before. Only, this time, Nathan noticed something was missing.  

It was him. 

 

THE END 

(Literally)

 

 

 


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David E. Gates
(United Kingdom)

David E. Gates has published a number of books and short-stories. His work has been featured in television, radio and print media.

His first book, Access Denied, a true story based on events from his life, was nominated for the 2017 Readers Choice Awards. His latest novel, The Wretched, won SILVER in the AuthorsDB 2017 Cover Contest!

His first horror novel, The Roots of Evil, was voted best to read on the Novel Festival site!

David’s poem, The Ode of Phineas Gage was selected for feature on PoetrySoup.com. The Magic of Mushrooms, another poem, made runner-up in the Grow Wild poetry competition. Other poems, such as Vape Away, Terminators and Outrunning The Rain, have been featured in The Poetry Festival.

He won the SILVER prize in the AuthorsDB 2016 Cover Contest for The Ghost of Clothes and won best HORROR Novel Logline for 2016 for The Roots of Evil.


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