Copyright © 2012 Stephen Laws
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
George MacGowan took only a brief interest in the car parked on the hard shoulder. The bus flashed past and he had a quick glimpse of the man sitting behind the wheel, head forward. Just some other poor bastard who had broken down. There was never a good time to break down at all, of course, but he didn’t relish the idea of breaking down in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night. He had no idea it was the car that had so recently overtaken him with its horn blaring, had no idea as he passed the car (reciting more dialogue from the jungle movie) that, even now, it was slewing away from the hard shoulder after him, approaching fast from behind.
“That’s why they hired a guy like me,” murmured George, lip-synching with the actor on screen. “They know I got nothin’ to lose...”
The video-screen image wobbled, and in the next instant the picture was gone. Instead there was a hissing snowstorm and an electronic crackling of static. George checked the rear-view mirror. Everyone was asleep. Just as he’d thought, he was the only one paying any attention to the damned thing. Leaning forward, he flipped the video switch.
The screen still hissed and buzzed.
He tried again. This master switch should turn off the video cassette and the television itself. But the television was still on. He tried several more times and then finally gave up. If someone complained, he’d have to pull into a lay-by and switch it off manually, at the screen controls.
Only a couple of extra minutes added to the schedule, and they were right on time in any event.
Up ahead, well past his headlight beams, and on the other side of the carriageway, he could see someone else’s headlights heading towards them. They seemed dazzling, much brighter than any of the other headlights he’d occasionally passed.
George checked the video screen again. Still flashing and buzzing.
And then the engine died.
No sputtering out, no sudden warning.
There was power, then suddenly there was none.
In panic, George stamped on the accelerator, trying to get more juice. Nothing. He twisted the ignition key. Nothing.
The car travelling towards them was approaching at top speed. Somehow, its headlights were even brighter than before, dazzling him and adding to his confusion. He felt suddenly sick with horror as the glaring headlights filled his line of vision. In that one instant, in a moment of stark fear, he knew that the lights could not be filling his windscreen like that if the vehicle was on the other side of the road. The lights could only be flaring and blinding for one reason.
The oncoming vehicle was not on the other side of the motorway.
It was on his side of the road.
Heading his way.
Somehow, some stupid idiot had taken a wrong turning from a slip-road — and his or her vehicle was heading the wrong way down the motorway, directly towards them.
The bus was losing speed. George frantically gripped the wheel, twisting to look at the rear-view mirror. But he could see nothing. The flaring headlights were impossibly bright, obscuring the mirror, and the only thing he could do was to swerve from his lane, and get the coach on to the hard shoulder and out of the way.
And then everything happened at once.
George MacGowan pulled the steering wheel hard over to the left, heart hammering, eyes dazzled by the headlights as…
Ellis Burwell, filled with anger, floored his accelerator and began to overtake the coach on the inside lane. His car had just begun to pass the rear of the coach when the entire vehicle swung at him, vast and powerful and shuddering. He jammed his hand down on the horn.
And then the screaming began.
The screaming seemed to be coming out of the light that filled the windscreen, from somewhere beyond the coach, which should already have swung out of the path of the oncoming vehicle. But somehow the glare still filled the windscreen, and as the light grew to an unbearable intensity, it was as if the voices were somehow reaching a new pitch of fear. The sense of imminent impact was horrifying and inevitable. Squinting into the brilliance, fear threatening to rob him of all his strength, George tried to see in the rear-view mirror if it was the passengers behind him who were giving vent to the desperate shrieking. But his brief, terrified glance could see nothing in the mirror, only more of the dazzling brilliance as…
Ellis Burwell’s foot came off the accelerator as the screaming filled the interior of his own car. It was exactly the same sound as George could hear, desperate, shrieking voices. A multitude of screaming people, the pitches varying, rising and falling, all in terror. The sound of it numbed and terrified Ellis. He stamped on the brake, intent on letting the coach carry on, one hand flying from the steering wheel to his ear, trying to blot out the terrifying sounds before his eardrums burst…
George MacGowan frantically shook his head, clinging to the steering wheel, as the screaming went on and on and on…
and he knew now, just knew, that those bizarre voices (could they possibly be human voices?) were coming from the source of intense light beyond his screen. And they knew — as did he— that nothing could stop the collision as George dragged the wheel hard over.
The coach swerved to the left again, towards Burwell’s car.
One second later, and Burwell would have made it as his speed dropped.
But the rear end of the coach clipped his right wing.
Burwell’s other hand flew to his face as his car was slammed from the motorway, spinning end to end. The side windows imploded, showering him with glass. Somehow, the screaming was going on and on — and now Burwell’s own screams were joining the terrifying throng as the car slammed into the hard shoulder, mounted the grassed embankment and came to a shuddering halt. Burwell was screaming in fear and hate. It was as if the terrible screaming voices inside his car belonged to everyone in the world who had ever wanted to put him down or place an obstacle in his path. They belonged to the people who hated him, those who wanted him out of the way. To his mother and father, long dead. To Klark, the blackmailing bastard. He wanted them dead and gone, dead and gone as…
The coach’s windscreen blew apart from an invisible impact. Somehow, the glittering fragments did not explode into the coach, nor out and away into the night. The glass shattered with an almighty, cascading roar and then, suddenly, was gone. As if the impact and the light had shattered and then instantly dissolved it all. The light and the voices filled the cab, and George’s hands flew from the driving wheel towards his face as the light erupted all around him. It was as if some lead sheath had been removed from a nuclear reactor. He tried to scream, but his voice was drowned by the screaming multitude that had now somehow invaded the coach. The shock of the screaming voices and the brilliantly blinding light had brought the coach passengers instantly out of their sleep. Some added their own cries of distress to the maelstrom of noise as they struggled to rise; others clawed at their seats, too shocked to react further. Others froze, too terrified by the insane shrieking noise to say or do anything.