The figure stepped into the road, caught in the headlight beam that cut a path through the sheet of rain. Thumping his foot down hard, Jon hit the brake. He pulled the wheel to the left and the back end began to move to the right, as though the car decided it wanted to do its own thing. The sound of screaming terrified Jon and he closed his eyes. The steering wheel slammed into his head as the car hit the barrier on the hard shoulder, coming to a dead halt.
It was the brakes screaming, Jon reassured himself. He sat at the wheel breathing deeply with both hands unable to let go of the wheel. He stared through the windshield where the wipers continued to fight against the torrential rain that tapped on the car, a monster knock-knock knocking on the roof, “Let me in, Little Pig!”
Pulling in a sharp intake of breath, he snapped out of this hypnotic state as he remembered the figure that had been walking down the middle of the road. And it was the middle, wasn’t it? Hell, he’d only had a couple to drink: he wasn’t drunk. Who walked along a busy road at night in the rain? They were asking to be killed. Except, Jonny Boy, you’re the only car on the road, his mind taunted him. That stupid bitch of a wife, Eve, had driven him out in this. If it hadn’t been for her, he’d be home, relaxing with a cold beer. Not so much relaxing now his wife had decided he’d gotten himself a drink problem. Married to Eve, drink was the only thing that made the life sentence bearable. Oh yeah, he gambled too much, just because he blew a few hundred on a horse last month. He’d win it back. She was always on his back, constantly putting him down and sending him back into the gutter. She nagged at him like a little demon on his shoulder.
Stop it, Jon; go see what you hit.
Jon sobbed, shivering uncontrollably. The sound of his father’s voice filled his head, telling him off for being a cry baby. “You’re weak!” He’d always been scared of his dad, who’d looked at his son with disappointment at each of his many failures. “You’re never going to make it, boy.”
Jon sat bolt upright, shutting the voice out. His father’s voice, or rather the mocking tone, was too close to Eve’s. He ran his hands through his hair and blew the pent up rage out. Why was he thinking about this now when there could be someone hurt? He had to spin the car round and check for a body, but he procrastinated. There had been no thud, no bump under the car as if going over a living speed bump. Or had there? He’d been too busy fighting with the car. He angled his head, trying to remember.
She screamed (it was the brakes).
The car had stalled and protested against life. It coughed a few times as Jon attempted to start it. The Ford was falling apart. The more he fixed, the more went wrong. Just as he was about to go into a rage, the engine finally sputtered into life. In no hurry to see what he had done, he sat for a bit to let the engine run warm. He closed his eyes so tight he saw patterns, swirling around and listened to the rough growl of the engine.
“Why did you kill her?”
Jon opened his eyes and looked at Eve, sat in the passenger seat. She stared ahead at something in the rain, her long blonde hair covering her face like a hood. “Why did you do it, Jonny?” Her voice was quiet, barely audible above the rain.
Jon’s mouth fell open in a silent scream. Trying to lose the illusion of her, he closed his eyes, praying that whatever this phantom was, it would go away. When he opened his eyes, she still sat there. She stared ahead, her face hidden by darkness. It couldn’t be her, could it? He tried to move closer to see the expression on her face, but he was unable to make out her features. “Why can’t I see your face?” he said, words uncertain, the way you feel foolish talking to yourself. Finally, he had lost his mind.
“Why did you kill her?” Eve calmly spoke the words to the bombardment of rain. She went silent and shadows surrounded her until she became a dark shape. Jon could still sense her, the cheap perfume and cigarettes. Had it been Eve out there on the road, walking in the rain?
I’ve been driving for hours, Jon told himself. I’m hallucinating, that’s all. The rain combined with the drone of the engine had caused this. I’m having an episode, it will pass. “I’ve not killed anyone,” he said aloud, almost believing himself. “It was an accident.” He grabbed the wheel with both hands and stared into the night.
The voice from the shadow figure changed to a familiar male voice. “You shouldn’t let her push you around. You should kill her.” The voice of his father was flat. “But you don’t have it in you.” The last comment sounded like both Eve and Dad. The shape next to him turned in the seat. Jon tensed; he didn’t want to see the face. “Do I have to do everything?” the shadow said in a strangled, inhuman tone. He saw momentary glimpse of a mocking face with empty eyes and manic grin. All teeth and bite.
“Get out of here!” Jon screamed. He reached out to grab the shadow, but his hands clung to air. The smell of rancid meat filled the car. Jon opened the door, leaned out and puked onto the road until he retched uselessly. The rain was cold and unforgiving. It washed the sick away and Jon pulled himself back and shut the door. Just old ghosts, he told himself. How often did he wake screaming from dreams about Dad beating him? How many times had Eve’s scornful words echoed in the corridors of his mind through the day?
“They’re not real, just ghosts,” he whispered. He remembered hearing stories about this stretch of road. They called it the demon highway. People saw things there, were always thinking they had run someone over. Some even claimed to have picked up ghostly hitchhikers.
Jon spun the car round and drove back along the rain drenched road at a steady five. After a couple of minutes, he stopped. He relaxed back in his seat as he saw no body slumped out there on the road. His eyes looked up and checked the rear view mirror. A figure in the back seat looked at him with dark eyes. He switched the interior light on and the figure was gone. Only the rotten smell lingered, a dark reminder of the phantoms.
Looking out through the rain, Jon saw dark figures moving around the car. He blinked them away, his heart pounding. Like a cliché, he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. Someone was behind him. Ice cold hands reached around his throat and pulled him back. Something hissed in his ears, and he felt the ice spread around, paralysing him. He screamed long and hard until he found himself sat alone again, grasping the wheel.
“Scared of the dark, Jonny?”
“Wet the bed again Jonny?”
“You drink too much, Jonny!”
In the headlight beam, he saw a figure stood a few metres ahead. It stared at him through the rain. With careful, deliberate steps, the figure moved closer. Jon felt a bead of sweat run down his face. He switched the full beam on and light spilled out across the figure revealing a gaunt, twisted face. Her mouth was a huge grin from ear to ear, her eyes empty black sockets. It was a version of Eve Jon always saw in his mind: a bitter, evil thing. Panicking, he put the car in gear, hit the accelerator and drove full speed into her, eyes closed. When he opened his eyes, he saw the empty road. There had been no thud of a body hitting. The sound of mocking laughter filled the car and he slammed the brakes.
“You gotta do better than that, son.”
With a groan, he looked behind to see his father sat smirking in the back seat. Dad leaned forward, his breath reeking of booze like he remembered it. Jon pulled away. “Leave me alone, Dad.”
Dad sat back and became a dark shadow. “You let her drive you out, son,” he whispered. “She gave you a drink problem, and then told you it was your fault. She wanted expensive things, driving you to gamble. You have to teach her a lesson.”
Jon thumped the steering wheel. “No!” Whatever else he was, Jon was not a killer. Despite everything, he loved his wife. Coughing against the foul smell, he threw the door open and stepped out into the torrential rain. It sliced through his skin, tiny particles of ice that tore him apart. Things moved around him, but he ran away as fast as he could. The rain blurred his eyes, but the twin headlights ahead cut a path through to him and he froze. The lights blinded him as they drew close and Jon put his hands up to shield his eyes. The car wasn’t going to stop. There was no pain as he flew over the roof of the speeding car. Not even when he came to a crumpled heap in the road did he feel the inevitable pain of death drawing close. There was only the screaming of breaks as a car came to a sudden stop.
“I told you not to drink.”
Jon managed to look up at the crouching figure at his side, struggling to tell if she was real or one of the phantoms. “Eve?”
Eve smiled down at him, her eyes narrowed cruelly as she watched the rain wash his blood away. “They said it would be for the best,” she said, looking up into the rain. Behind her, a shadowy figure reached out and touched her shoulder. She stood and strolled away from Jon, darkness wrapping around her. A moment later, a car sped away down the road and Jon was alone. But as his eyes began to close, he saw the shadows gathering, and the sound of laughter filled his ears.