A short story of about 900 words

Danvers eased himself back on the soft leather of the driving seat. The sun beat on the road in front of him as the signs on the autoroute flashed past. Only another eighty kilometres or so until he was there. He pictured the stiff drink, the ice, the beautiful women at the bar.

His eyes flicked to the driving mirror. Behind him the road stretched away empty, lined with dusty pines. Through the open car window came the hot scent of resin; the dry airless wind.

He put the car into a corner, smoothly changing gear and then speeded up again. Behind him a van had appeared in the mirror. Idly he watched it every now and then, a point of interest on the empty road. It was gaining on him.

He glanced down at his speedometer, and pressed his foot slightly on the pedal. The needle hovered over the eighty. The van was still there. Nearer. Ninety. He glanced into the mirror. It was holding its own easily. A small frown appeared between his eyes.

The road in front was empty. No other cars. It was the heat of the day and every living thing had crept into the shade. The tarmac was tacky. At the slightest turn of the wheel the tyres screamed.

He looked up again, his eyes narrowed in the glare behind his glasses. The van had gained a lot on him this time. ‘The bastard must be doing over a hundred,’ Danvers muttered to himself. He felt suddenly uneasy. His palms were sweating a little on the wheel as he eased his foot down further on the accelerator.

Abruptly he leaned forward and snapped on the radio. A woman’s voice, crooning softly, filled the silence in the car, masking the even roar of the engine and the hiss and squeal of the tyres. He tried not to look in the mirror. A mirage flickered over the road ahead, reflecting the pines.

When he glanced up again the van filled the mirror. He could see the four headlights mounted high on the front bumper. Were they flashing or did they just reflect the sun? He swallowed. Concentrate. He must concentrate as this speed. The needle was touching a hundred. Where was everybody? Why was the road so empty?

The woman’s voice was wooing, seductive. Like the woman he hoped to find in the Hotel des Grands Pins. He licked his lips nervously. They were dry.

The van was closer. Much closer. Then imperceptibly it began to fall back again. It was smaller in the mirror. Danvers relaxed a little. The pressure was off. The needle dropped back. Ninety. Eighty. Seventy. There was a tight band of tension around his forehead. The woman finished the song and the compère came on; Danvers turned him off.

Perhaps he could stop somewhere. A cold drink. A rest in the shade. He wiped his hands, each in turn on the leg of his trousers and tried to ease his position in the seat. Then he glanced back to the mirror.

The van was so close the radiator filled the mirror, towering above him, all four lights blazing. ‘God Almighty!’ Danvers slammed his foot down and the car leaped forward. It was like a nightmare. ‘What’s the fool playing at? Why doesn’t he pull over?’ The van was gaining on him. He could hear the scream of its engine. His mouth was dry, but he could feel the sweat trickling down into his eyes. He must think clearly. Keep his head. What was the matter with him? Slow down. That was it. Slow down. Let the bastard pass.

He was clutching the steering wheel, his hands locked, his knuckles white.

The van was within twenty feet of him now. He could see the hunched back silhouette of the man at the wheel. Fifteen feet. Ten. The car was doing over a hundred. A hundred and ten. If he slowed up the fool would be in the back of him. The engine was overheating. He had to slow down. He pulled across to the centre lane. The van followed. He could see the driver’s face as the flashed another glance up at the mirror. The man was grinning. He could see him clearly, sitting high over the wheel, grinning. Grinning like an ape. He felt his car swerve and he dragged his eyes back to the road in a panic. Look at the road, not behind. Keep your eyes on the road. Look for a turning. Perhaps you can swing off the road, get away from the maniac. Please God let there be a turning.

Endlessly the road stretched ahead, hazy in the distance with the beating heat.

There was a smell of burning from the engine. Lights were flashing on the dashboard. Danvers tore off his glasses and threw them down on the passenger seat. He dashed the sweat from his eyes. There could only be two feet between them.

Desperately he wrenched the wheel round and tyres screaming the car spun off the road and ploughed up the bank. The van thundered on up the autoroute as Danvers’ engine burst into flame.

Desperately he fumbled for the seat belt release. He was sobbing, shaking. His legs trembled so much he couldn’t move. He was trapped.

Distantly he heard a bell ringing in the silence. Was it the police? An ambulance? ‘Help,’ he tried to call out. ‘Help please. Help me!’

All around him was the grass and the smell of the dusty pines. Smoke was pouring from the engine. He was desperately wrestling with the seat belt fighting to be free.

Then suddenly he stopped struggling. He lay back, shocked, but grinning, as through his panic he realised it was his own alarm clock ringing. Everything was going to be alright. In a moment he would wake up and find it was all a bad dream.

Behind him, on the floor of the car, his case had burst open. The clock lay, face up, vibrating gently on the carpet as smoke curled in under the doors.

All short stories »