A man is tormented by a mocking figure that suddenly appears in his moving vehicle.
|“Who are you? What do you want from me?” My fingers clenched the steering wheel as if I were trying to wring water out of the stitched leather wrapping.
I held the accelerator firmly against the floor. Unaccustomed to such effort, the engine threatened to blow apart. I could see nothing beyond the blurred forms flashing briefly in my headlights before being lost again to the starless void of night.
“Who says I have to want something from you?” The man gave a sly smirk that made the hairs on my arms stand at attention. Having just appeared in the passenger seat only seconds prior, he watched my panic with unfettered amusement. I hadn’t stopped for hours, yet there he was with that terrible smile.
“Where did you come from?”
“You know where.” The weight of his mocking eyes could crush even the most resilient of spirits.
“No. I don’t.”
“Oh. Then, it’s probably not important.” He chuckled as if hearing the punch line of a joke no one had told.
“Then why are you here?” My voice was in panic, though I attempted to sound stern.
He grinned, baring more teeth than I’d assumed possible in a man. His eyes were hidden in shadow. “You know why I’m here.”
My gaze was immediately locked onto the crack in my windshield. It spread from its epicenter in a pattern that was a marvel to behold, as if a spider had spun a web within the fragile pane of glass to capture my soul and devour it whole. I couldn’t remember what gave birth to the seedling knick. I only knew the sight of it turned my stomach. Feeling the man’s delighted glare upon me, I could not help but realize they were connected in some horrendous way.
“You’re here to hurt me?” The dread alone carried by this question kept me from uttering it as not more than a whisper.
The man laughed as if I had regaled him with the cleverest joke ever told. It was a hearty laugh, deep and strong. His head snapped back and forth as loosely as a guest on a hangman’s noose. A revelatory hand kept rhythm with sharp slaps to his left thigh. My stomach threatened to claw its way up my throat. It took almost all of my focus to maintain control of the car as glimmers of roadside markers appeared and vanished again.
“No.” He attempted to contain himself, brushing away his giddy tears with a wiry finger. “No.” He chuckled again briefly as, I assume, he replayed my statement in his mind once more. “That’s not my department. To be honest, I’m just here to enjoy the show.” His laughter continued, igniting my temper.
“You think this is funny?” My voice boomed and my face flushed red hot. He merely looked back at me with belittling amusement.
“Yes, it’s quite entertaining.” He sighed, having recovered from his recent bout of gaiety. “Though I can understand why you’re unable to appreciate the comedic nature of your current situation but, trust me, you will.” His grin returned. “It’s gold.”
“There’s nothing funny about this!”
His smile was unrelenting. The raised hairs on my arms threatened to uproot themselves and flee, taking the last of my sanity with them. Surely, I had gone mad.
“Again,” he responded, “from your point of view.”
“Who are you?”
I swallowed hard, attempting to return my stomach to its rightful place. “What are you?”
The man mimed contemplation. A single finger tapped away at his chin. “More important, but I don’t think I’ll say. What’s life without a little mystery, wouldn’t you agree?” He giggled at his own cunning. The spiderlike crack in my windshield grew broader.
“Damn it! I don’t want mystery!” My voice was a bellow so filled with power even a lion would have grown timid in my presence.
In my distraction, I nearly drove into the back of a slow moving sedan. I cut hard to the left, avoiding it by inches. In my rearview, I could see the elderly woman driver spouting what I could only imagine was a barrage of obscenities. I returned her harsh words with some of my own, flabbergasted by my own loss of control. Surely this demonic tormentor was getting the better of me.
The man joyfully watched the woman’s muted tirade. “See? That’s fantastic! I knew you wouldn’t disappoint me.” He laughed again, clutching his gut as if it were about to burst. My grip on the wheel only tightened.
“I want you out of my car!” My outburst had done nothing to stifle the man’s pleasure in my suffering, however. “Now!”
He pretended to contemplate my request for a second before shaking his head. “Sorry, my friend but you are just too much fun. Look at that vein in your forehead throbbing away! It looks like it's about to burst!” His chortle was maddening.
The crack only expanded. Radials split away from larger branches, connecting the growing network. The invisible spider skittered to anchor a new thread.
I remained silent and simply drove. Every action seemed to give this inhuman man no end of pleasure. It was time to become as unentertaining as possible. I became as still as a grave, focusing only on the road ahead. Still, I felt his amused eyes upon me.
The man sighed with a chuckle. “Oh, good. It’s time for the silent treatment. Everybody tries that, you know. It never works.”
I gave him no reply. I didn’t even acknowledge his presence.
He smiled. “Have it your way. You can’t run forever. This ride will end sooner or later. It’s only a matter of time.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I didn’t want to speak. My body simply reacted. I cursed myself for falling for his ploy.
His smirk grew once again into his toothy grin. The corners of his mouth threatened to put out his eyes. “Think carefully, my friend.”
“We are not friends! You may sit there and look like a man but you’re not! You’re a monster, whatever you are!”
This time, his happy visage only barely veiled his disdain for me. “Nevertheless, you stupid creature, we are linked, you and I.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Think about it.”
My mind raced. I realized I had no idea how I got into this car. The past was all a blur. Why was I here? Where had I been going? I couldn’t say. All that seemed to have ever existed was this rolling metal frame and the fleeting images streaking beyond webbed panes of glass. My eyes focused on the windshield and the expanding fracture that nearly consumed it.
The man laughed when my bewilderment turned to horrid recollection. My stomach once again attempted to make an escape. I remembered them. The angered woman in the other car and the giggling man to my right, I knew them both but only briefly. Their faces, wide-eyed and pale, were burned into my mind.
“No. No, no. It’s all my fault.” It was all I could utter. The fading echo of screeching tires reverberated in my ears. Still, I couldn’t release my foot from the pedal. The spider in the window expanded its net.
“Damn straight.” He chuckled again at my horror.
“I killed them both. I killed you.”
His teeth nearly shined in the pale moonlight filtering into the car. “Not exactly. True, the old hag is dead but her son, the poor bastard whose image I have most graciously borrowed, is spread out on the highway as we speak with a rather nasty crack in his skull and most of his vital fluids staining the pavement.”
“I’m a murderer.” I spoke without looking at him. My focus was intently centered on the snaking fracture spreading through my windshield.
“Oh, no. Don’t beat yourself up about it.” He giggled. “That drab road needed a splash of color. Besides, it was an accident. It’s not your fault the fool led his senile mother into the path of an oncoming car. If you ask me, they had it coming.”
“Will you stop patronizing me? I killed them! Don’t you understand? It’s my fault.”
“Perhaps. There’s no changing it now. So, relax. Kick back and enjoy the ride. I know I am.”
“No. I have to stop. I have to go back.” I tried to let off the accelerator but it was as if the blasted thing had a hold on me. My fingers refused to relinquish their grasp on the wheel. “What is this?” My voice was filled with sheer terror. “What are you doing?”
The man snickered gleefully. “Sorry, my friend. There’s no turning back. Where we’re going is so much more fun.”
His laughter was all consuming, all penetrating. I could feel it reverberating within my skull as my vision blurred. Warm blood trickled down my face and I could do nothing more than join him in his giddy madness. As my weakened windshield finally burst, sparkling shards of glass rained down upon me like a million shooting stars, I couldn’t help but laugh.
“What the hell is wrong with this guy?” I could hear one of the paramedics wonder with disgust as she pulled me, still lost in grieved hysterics, from my vehicle. No mention was made of my tormentor in the other seat.
“Who cares?” The other medic clamped a brace around my neck. “I’m missing the game because of this asshole. Let’s get him out of here.”
With great effort, they hoisted me—my limbs flailing wildly—onto a gurney and strapped me down. I was wheeled past the covered forms of the woman and her giddy son not twenty yards from my car, where I had been found with a vice grip on the steering wheel and my foot pressing on the brake. Until my sudden outburst of laughter, they thought me catatonic.
Even to this day, I sit in my soft room and stare back at the man, his inhuman mouth stretched out in a Cheshire smile. He mocks me all the while, reminding me of my atrocity. When faced with such tragedy and overwhelming grief, what more could I do than join in the man’s laughter?