Barry McCann

The August Selected Writer is Barry McCann

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by Barry McCann

He looked at the crumpled body with mobile phone in hand and a conscience torn. Summoning an ambulance would be anybody’s first instinct and had been his, until hesitation took hold.      

Marc Wilkinson was driving home from an evening at St. Enodoch’s golf club outside the Cornwall town of Wadebridge. Traversing the arteries of narrow, twisting lanes, the stillness of a countryside evening whispered menace for the former city boy. Layers of night air textured the darkened landscape, transmuting trees and occasional houses into brooding auras silently watching, and waiting. Then the night decided to strike.

As he negotiated a short cut through the village of St. Issey, a cyclist swerved out from a road on the left and he failed to see her until the last moment. Reflex slammed on the brake, but his vehicle impacted and sent the woman flying onto the ground with a sickening thud.

Leaping out his car, he stood over the woman and pulled out a mobile from his jacket pocket. The bike laid smashed and its rider both twisted and unconscious with no vital signs apparent. Then, the dilemmatic thought occurred.

Though clear headed, he had enjoyed a couple of glasses before leaving the club. The police were bound to get involved in an incident like this and he would certainly be tested for alcohol. Being found over the limit would cost his license, his job and more besides.

If he rang emergency services on his mobile, his number could be traced and questions asked. But there was the telephone box that just happened to stand a couple of hundred yards ahead and still in use. Looking around to check for no witnesses, he ran back to the car.

He steered around the victim and stealthily made for the phone box, pulling up beside it. The strategy might cost the woman vital minutes, but that was a risk he would have to take. If she was a goner what difference would it make?

“Someone’s been knocked off her bike in St. Issey,” he told the emergency line in a fake Cornish accent. “She’s not moving. She needs an ambulance.”

“Can you state the exact location?” the operator enquired.

“Corner of Glebe Crescent, just before the church. I’d better get back to her.”

“Can I take your name please?”

“No time. Just get an ambulance there quick!”

He slammed the phone down and double checked there was no one else around. Satisfied, he got into his car and put miles between himself and the accident scene.

BBC Radio Cornwall carried the story during the following day. Donna Keeley, aged 36, badly injured and in a coma at Tresliske Infirmary following a suspected hit and run. An anonymous man described as sounding local had reported the accident and police for appealing for him to come forward. The report stopped short of confirming him as a suspect.

For a man without sleep this came as a relief and he poured a strong black coffee. There was nothing to link him to the incident and, even if the woman recovered, the collision happened so fast that there was no way she could identify him.

Gulping his drink, he considered trading in his car for a different model as extra precaution. But it occurred that dealers may have been alerted in the wake of the accident, even if it had left no apparent mark on his vehicle. Perhaps best wait and allow the dust to settle.  

During the following days, Marc kept a check on the local press and radio and Donna Keeley quickly became old news, indicating her condition unchanged. Rather than continuing to lie low, he decided that keeping up usual appearances would be the best cover. His golfing partners must be wondering why he had not shown his face, and if they realized the hit and run took place shortly after he last left the club it might add to any suspicion. A visit to the 19th hole was called for.

His friends did remark on Marc’s recent absence the moment he arrived, a topic from which he immediately diverted by ordering a round of drinks and a story that he had been unwell. This also provided the explanation as to why he was now on tonic water, cryptically dismissing the teetotal preference as “Doctor’s orders.”

The evening of hearty banter and old jokes proved the exact normality he sought. The fact that none present mentioned the accident suggested no possible link had been drawn with him. Feeling more at ease, he chose his usual time to bid everyone goodnight.

Departing the club driveway, Marc headed in the direction of Wadebridge as usual, though planned on sticking to the main road from there and avoiding the short cut through that fateful village. Although superstition was not his usual thing and knew the irrationality of his action, he also reasoned: why ignore caution and take chances? 

There were only headlights for company as he undertook the unlit country lanes, relieved by the occasional cluster of houses. Turning a sharp corner, his lights skimmed the edges of tall standing stones, arranged in a circle and a reminder of Cornwall’s Celtic past, or even present. 

Relaxing into the hum of the engine invoked childhood memories of falling asleep in the back seat, his parents’ car a womb of safe assurance. Even in adult life, there was something secure about being on the inside of a moving vehicle. Until, that is, he noticed the lights in his rear view mirror.  

The car they belonged to followed as he took his first turning down a narrow short cut, and again when he turned off at the end of it. Coming to a crossroads, Marc signaled to take a right and the driver behind did the same, which gave him a gut feeling of unease.

Marc assured himself the car behind was simply taking the same route but, as he studied the mirror, another coincidence presented itself. The car appeared to be the same make, model and color as his. Surely that could not be chance?

The next turn off ahead presented the opportunity to divert and head back in the direction from which he had just come. If he took that, it could dispel the unsettling suspicion as the other driver would surely not double back as well.

He began to slow and signaled left with one eye on the mirror. The other driver did not signal, seemingly intending to continue its present course. Gently, he swerved left and allowed the wheel to straighten itself again before looking for an opportunity to decelerate and turn around. Until he noticed the other car had followed after all and was right behind him.

Licking his dry lips nervously and wondering what to do next, he detected the end of this lane approaching and this gave him another strategy. Take the next turn back in the direction of Wadebridge, but without signaling.

Approaching the junction, he slowed down before swerving right. His fears were further confirmed as the car behind did the same. With a clear and wider road ahead, he embarked on another gambit.

Pressing the gas pedal, he quickly accelerated to fifty miles per hour and his pursuer followed suit. Whoever it was had to be after him. Could it be the police, onto him for the accident? He shook both this head and the notion. Why would they be in a civilian car that happened to be a replica of his?

Entering a suburban area, he reduced speed forcing the car behind to do the same. It maintained a distance now close enough for Marc to make out the vehicle’s registration plate in the shine of the street lights. Years of driving had taught him to read backwards from the mirror and instinct alerted him to a familiarity about it. It was the exact same registration of his car.

Finally convinced this to be a deliberate set up, he considered pulling over to confront his pursuer. However, he was unable to make out anyone in the car’s apparently blackened windscreen, and that unnerved him further. There may be more than one on board, possibly family or friends of the woman out for revenge. With the outskirts of Wadebridge approaching, he resolved to use the town’s sheltered streets to out maneuver.

Now in a built up area, Marc steadied his speed in the hope that would lull his pursuer before grabbing an opportunity that might come by. If he could delay the alien car by just several seconds, it could buy time to shake it off in the rat run of Wadebridge. As he crossed a bridge over the river, an idea formed.

Approaching a junction with the town high street, Marc was relieved to see it busy with traffic. The lights were on green and he slowed further in the hope if timing fate. With just yard to go, they switched to amber and he hit the accelerator, jumping the now red light and swerving left. Keeping up the momentum, he checked his mirror to see his pursuer do the same, causing an oncoming van to emergency stop. Hitting the wheel with his fist, Marc dammed the driver’s nerve. But then a second ploy was ahead.

The street ended at a roundabout fed by two approaching roads from opposite angles. He knew the turning on the left took an immediate three quarter degree corner to the right. If he could delay the other car long enough, that corner could get him out of its sight momentarily enough to take advantage of another blind spot that lay just around there.

Marc’s heart pumped as the roundabout came into sight, and he could not believe his luck as two cars approached from the turning on the right. He slowed in an apparent signal of giving way but, as the first car began to cross the junction, he hit the gas pedal and cut across to the left, causing the approaching car to brake and the one behind to collide with it.

Checking his mirror, Marc could see the now stationary vehicles blockading his pursuer. No doubt it would reverse and maneuver around them, but he had still been bought valuable time.

Now around the corner and out of sight, he took a right turn into the side driveway of a community center, then swung round again into an alcove behind the building and just hidden from the eye line of the road. Switching the engine off, he adjusted his mirror and watched. Several seconds later, the lights of the pursuing car appeared.

“Keep going, just keep going,” he muttered intensely. The stalking vehicle roared as it zoomed past with no sign of slowing, evidently thinking its quarry to be somewhere ahead. His breathing turned shallow as the car’s rear gradually retreated from view with no sudden registration of brake lights. The ploy had worked, and he breathed with normality again.

Waiting a few moments, Marc ignited the engine and reversed out. Confident the other driver was safely gone, he doubled back to the high street and took the turning to Padstow, checking the mirror to confirm no one was behind. 

Negotiating a bend, he slowed down as a car in front suddenly came into view, less than a couple of yards in front. His mouth opened incredulously as he perceived the same model, colour and registration number.  

As if sensing Marc’s realization, the car’s brake lights flickered in a signal to pull over. He knew the mysterious driver was not going to give up and perhaps it was time for direct confrontation. He flicked his headlights in confirmation.

Following the car into a lay by, he cut off his engine and took a moment to study the vehicle’s back window. It seemed blacked out, yielding no clue as to occupants, only an engine quietly humming. Then its passenger door opened wide in invitation, apparently unaided.

Marc slowly got out and made his way towards the gaping door, stopping just short and saying “Hello?” With no reply or even sign of life forthcoming, he stepped up to the opening and bent down to look in, the interior an impenetrable chasm of darkness with no shape or form registering. No witnesses were present to see him suddenly dragged inside, screaming and kicking like a prey swallowed alive. As the last of him disappeared within, the door slammed shut and the vehicle set off, melting into the distance of the night from which it formed.

In the hospital at Treliske, the eyes of a coma patient suddenly opened. Eyes that watched from an altered state and directed the restoration of balance. A hand brushed upwards and across her chest, caressing the pentacle around her neck as she breathed new life.  

Barry McCann is a writer, editor, broadcaster and speaker. His articles and short stories have appeared in various magazines including Scream, newspapers and websites such as Cultbox and Spooky Isles. He has makes regular appearances on BBC Radio as cultural historian, storyteller and “Folklore Correspondent.” He is editor of the art and literature journal Parnassus for Mensa International, and more recently become a scriptwriter for The Trudy Lite Show currently broadcasting on Amazon. He is currently editing an anthology of horror/supernatural stories entitled Shadows of Pendle, to be published later in 2018.