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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Death · #2265706
Moving on becomes an obsession.
A Driving Desire

I slipped into town just as dawn was painting the winter sky with its usual grey tones. Traffic was light this early and the old Peugeot hummed as I guided it down the main drag to the ring road. This was familiar enough, although there were new buildings here and there, occasional reminders that times change relentlessly. You can’t go home again, they say.

With the steady hand of long practice, I filtered on to the ring road and followed its swoops and soaring leaps through three intersections. Then the usual ramp beckoned and I eased off to join the road to places north. Inevitably, this led through my old stomping ground and the house where so many years had passed unnoticed. I felt the urge and left the main road at the base of the hill and began the steep climb to the top.

Past the newsagent I drove, noting how unchanged the corner shops appeared and, halfway up, the turn into my road seemed much as it always had been. But the field on the right was halved in size and, in its place, a small apartment block now rose to offend my memory. On the other side, the rows of houses from the thirties still stood, but now with added porches and front gardens tarmacked over for car parking space.

My house was unchanged, a lone survivor of the prosperous years with surplus money for home improvement. I allowed the car to trickle past and then accelerated to the end of the street.

Something made me turn right at the T-junction rather than back towards the north road and I climbed the rest of the hill to reach the plateau. Here the playing fields still held their ground, resisting all efforts to be submerged in the fashion for new buildings. I drove past them and suddenly knew where I was going.

If there were anywhere in that town where I’d be likely to run into someone I knew, the church had to be the place. That humble, little building, hardly more than a scout hut in its determined Protestantism, held some of the most stolid and immobile persons I’d ever known. If anyone was there this morning, I would know them, surely.

The rest of the journey followed automatically, along the Radford Road to the roundabout and then the drag along the way to Keresley village, turning off into that minor road that comes up so quickly that few even notice it. The church was still there, partially hidden now behind some trees that had grown up in the car park.

I turned in and drove to the rear, stopping in the open space behind the building. There was no sign of the old bus, only one car parked right at the far end by the field. I paused before entering the church. It looked unchanged, as though twenty years had passed by without anyone desiring to add or subtract anything from it. The same old brass door handle awaited my touch.

Inside, it was much as things had been but, on the far side from the door, a desk had been set up. A woman sat there, head down, grey hair drawn back into a bun and her fingers a blur of movement on the keys of a computer. The clackety-clack filled the high spaces in the church and morning light streamed from the windows.

When the woman looked up and saw me, I recognised her immediately. Not a person I knew well but a long standing member of the congregation. No name came to mind but a hurried search suggested Ann. It would do, if necessary. I’d probably be able to escape without using a name, anyway.

“Sorry to disturb you,” I said. My voice sounded strange to me, for so long having been alone with my thoughts. “I was just passing and thought I’d drop in to see if Ben was around.”

If she was surprised to see me there, after all this time, she gave no hint of it. “Ben died ten years ago.” There was a pause before she added, “Heart attack.”

“Yes, I thought that might be so,” I replied. “Had one or two of them myself over the last few years. And Ben was always older than me.”

In the silence that followed, I realised that she knew me, though time had dealt less kindly with my face than hers, and she remembered how my brief stay at the church had changed both our lives. Yet still her expression remained enigmatic, without evidence of emotion of any kind.

Well, two can play at that game. Without saying anything further, I turned and headed for the door. She followed, as though to ensure that I didn’t take anything as I left. As I emerged from the church, she stopped in the doorway and watched. I walked to the car. She was still there when I had turned the car around. As I drove past her, I weakened and gave her a slight wave of the hand.

She gave me nothing in return.

It was to be expected, I suppose. Never having said anything about my departure and without communication through the years was sure evidence of my own feelings toward the place. Or lack of them. The truth was that I needed a complete break from that life, that there was nothing left to hold me there, and my departure was almost forced upon me by the opening of new doors far away. I could see how others would see it as betrayal, however. Even now I feel no need to contact old friends and I shy away from any possibility of their learning my address. If you’re burying the past, it should stay buried.

It had been a mistake to call in at the church. Ben was the kind of person who wouldn’t notice a silence as long as mine had been, but the likelihood was always that Ben was long gone. And now I was left with this new understanding of how others must feel and all the guilt and regret that came with it. I thought of all the faces and even some of the names I had known back then and the weight of it overwhelmed me.

Sheer melodrama, of course. I’m not one to dwell on the past and have no difficulty in shrugging off regret and responsibility. But the chill in that lady’s response had shaken me. Her cold silence had somehow been worse than any hard words or recriminations might have been.

It was true that I was running, however. Had been all my life, actually. Sometimes it was towards something but, more often, it was away. And right now it was time to run away.

I had slowed the car almost to a crawl as I pondered these depressing thoughts and now I realised that I was in a part of town I didn’t know very well. It was all tightly wound little streets with houses crowded together and little shops spilling out on to the pavements. The Cow’s Guts, we called it, and avoided these side streets by taking only the main roads through it.

There was a gap between the cars parked along one side of the narrow street and I pulled into it, hoping to get my bearings before driving out of there. I must keep moving, I reasoned, and it had to be north. Nothing would be worse than to get out, only to find that I was heading south by mistake. He must be close behind me now and I should be running hard.

I gazed up at the overcast sky, looking for some sign that indicated direction. It seemed lighter directly ahead of me and that must surely indicate the steady rising of the sun in the morning. So I was heading east and needed only to look for roads to my left and I would surely be going north again.

I reached forward to switch the motor on. At the same time, I heard a tapping at the window of the car. The driver’s window, right next to my ear. I sensed the shadow that now obscured the light from that direction. My movements froze and I felt the first rising of that massive nausea that floods the soul and drains hope. Not now, it can’t be now. But the signs are there and I know that he has caught up with me at last. Turning to the window, I see the bony finger still tap-tap-tapping at the window. Behind it the grinning skull leers at me, eye sockets empty and ghostly.

The bones of his finger stop their rapping to turn and beckon to me. I sink into the first wave of the heart attack.

Word count: 1,472
For Weekly SCREAMS!!!, 01.21.22
Prompt: You are a monster, being hunted by the most fearsome creature of all.

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