Road Kill: Christmas Eve.

Road Kill

Christmas Eve was always the most trying day of the year for Barry. Forced to wear false nose and glasses, and a green hat decked with silver tinsel as one of Santa's elves, was not his idea of respectability for a bank under-manager. From mid-morning it appeared, from the unintelligible responses to his questions, that every customer he saw had already over-indulged on intoxicating Christmas merriment. Everyone, that is, except Mrs Langbourne-Smythe, who spent the greater proportion of a thirty minute interview complaining about everyone over-indulging on intoxicating Christmas merriment, instead of listening to the advice Barry was giving on the management of her late husband's estate.

Two of the cashiers had to be sent home after lunch for being in unfit state to work; one had stunned her client by projectile vomiting across the desk. As well as sousing the wad of notes the customer was paying into his account, the thick yellow slime spattered against the booth window, sprayed over the screen and drooled into the keyboard of her computer terminal. Even after the cleaner had been instructed to remove the offending substance, the reeking stench of alcohol spiced vomit turned Barry's stomach each time he passed her now closed station.

He was relieved when one of the managers from Head Office arrived with the staff Christmas salary and bonus shortly before the bank finally closed its doors. The man brought also, several bottles of port and sherry, and a huge box of mince pies. Barry would have preferred to forgo the traditional celebratory drinks and party atmosphere around the decorated tree in favour of getting home to his wife Julie, and the two children. This was the fourth Christmas the twins had seen, and they were at the age when the excitement of an eagerly anticipated visit from Santa was the one thing on their young minds.

However, it was expected of him, so he had to make the best of the situation. Each staff member had laid out little shiny wrapped gifts for friends and colleagues which they ripped open with “ooohs” and “wows” more befitting a children's tea party than a grown-up social event. The situation improved considerably when Linda, the latest bank employee, slim, blond, green-eyed and seductive, made inebriated sexual advances toward him. During a fifteen minute tryst in the private office where he interviewed customers, she demonstrated techniques to which she could apply her tongue and lips of which even Julie seemed unaware. This was the crowning moment of the day which, thankfully, appeared to go unnoticed by the remaining staff, at least, no one remarked on his absence for that period to his face.

At a few minutes before seven, he escaped the clutches of kiss-me-quick, female groping hands clasping sprigs of green and white mistletoe, and drove his red Honda Civic from the bank car park to begin three days of Christmas celebration with his family. Fully aware that if stopped by the police and forced to blow into a breathalyser, he would probably be over the limit, he made a decision to take a more roundabout way home, the scenic route, rather than follow the main road between the two towns. Although this would almost double the ten mile journey along a narrow unlit country lane little wider than two cars abreast, it was rarely used. He estimated being home by seven thirty, just in time to see the children before they were put to bed.

The road snaked, twisting through hilly woodlands linking several small farming communities and hamlets. It was a route he was quite familiar with; so much more relaxing to drive than the main thoroughfare after a busy working day, that he often used it in the summer months. A cold December drizzle on a keening wind now reduced visibility to levels that caused mild concern as the wipers smeared a greasy track across the windscreen, and Barry was grateful for so little traffic on the roads. After half a mile, the street lights of the town gave way to total darkness lit only by the headlights of the car. The radio, tuned to the local FM popular music channel, emitted the usual selection of past Christmas hits that he knew well enough to sing along with, while the warmth of the heater coaxed him into a state of relaxation. The headlights of an approaching car would easily be visible from a distance that there was no need for such deep concentration…

…until rounding a right hand curve the headlights illuminated a figure at the side of the road.

Although only caught in the glare of the twin beams of light for a few seconds, Barry could see the figure was female, and probably quite young. She wore a dark coloured jacket with a short skirt and knee length boots. Lank, dark hair hung to her shoulders as she trudged along the road with head bowed and shoulders hunched, while one arm was raised in the gesture of a hitch hiker. She appeared to be limping, and a more bedraggled sight he had never seen.

Barry hit the brakes hard, veering into the middle of the road to miss her. If he had been dazzled by headlights from an approaching vehicle, he would never have seen her. The car came to a stop, slewed at an angle to the grass verge a little way past the figure, and he leaned across to open the passenger door. The interior light came on reflecting only the inside of the car in the rear and side windows, but the red glow of the brake light, visible in the side mirror, was for a few moments obscured by her shadow. Then she was sliding into the seat beside him. Her wet clothing was dishevelled, one heel of the boots, he noticed, was broken which probably accounted for the hobbling, and her stockings or tights were badly torn. Her hair was plastered to the side of her head, dripping with moisture and hiding most of her face. Before he could see more, she slammed the door closed as if thankful for the warmth and to shut out the cold night air, and then the light dimmed leaving only the glow from the dash panel.

“Hey, that was bloody stupid, walking along here in the dark!” The scare she had given him was evident in the way he snapped the words at her. “You should wear fluorescent clothing if you're walking on unlit roads. I almost didn't see you. My God! I could have fuckin' killed you! Lucky there was no cars coming or you'd have caused an accident.”

She made no answer, but he heard the click as she engaged the safety belt.

“I'm only going into the residential part of town. Can't take you any further than that.” He tried to calm the jittery feeling in his stomach while easing the car into gear and accelerating away. “Where are you heading?”

“S'okay,” her voice so low, Barry almost missed it.

She appeared to have no intention of answering the question, so after a minute he tried again. “What's your name? Where are you going?”

There was a drawn out uneasy silence, apart from the sound of White Christmas from the radio and the hum of the engine, and then, “Eve.” The single word was mumbled and again, hardly discernable.

“Look, Eve, I didn't mean to shout at you back there. I was more concerned for your safety. God, you scared the shit out of me. Coming round a bend like that and seeing you standing in the road.”

She made no answer, but gave a short sniff as if suffering from a cold. He glanced at her, but she was looking away form him through the side window. “Are you all right?”

There was a noise which seemed to come from the back of her throat and could have been a sob. From the corner of his eye Barry saw the shadowy silhouette of her head fall forward, tucking the chin into her chest as her hands came up to cover her eyes and she sniffed again. It was obvious that she was shaking, but whether from cold or for some other reason, he knew not. He swore under his breath that if she suffered from flu, he would pass the contagion on to Julie and the children to ruin their New Year. “Is anything the matter?” He tried to make the tone of his voice sound flippant, light hearted. “From the mess your clothes are in, looks almost like you been in a fight.”

Between choking sobs he heard, “…weird guy just picked me up. …think he was drunk.”

Barry suppressed the attempted frivolity, reverting to his more usual, serious nature. “Oh Jesus, no... You haven't been attacked or raped have you?” It would make sense of the disarray of her clothing. She was obviously extremely upset, traumatised even. Taking his hand from the gear stick he placed it on her forearm to give a reassuring, comforting squeeze, and was shocked at how damp and cold the limb felt through the light suede jacket.

He suddenly felt scared that by giving her a lift, he could be accused of being the rapist. Horrifying thoughts chased through his mind as to how he would explain to Julie and her parents. They were the deeply religious type to whom any indication of a sexual transgression or an assignation outside of marriage was a sin punishable by an eternity in hell. What also would it do to the prospects of promotion in his career if he was tagged as a sex offender? “Look, I'd better take you to the police station. You need to report this immediately. Maybe they can get a DNA profile of the man.”

“No, there's no need. He didn't do anything… like that…” Her reply was punctuated by snivels and sobs and then another long pause as if she feared elaborating more, until Barry felt the need to prompt for a further response.

“So how did your clothing get so mussed up?” He began to feel a little easier that his fears of becoming embroiled in accusations of rape might be unfounded. “That broken heel on your boot must be damned uncomfortable for walking.”

Perhaps she had stumbled into the hedge or a ditch at the side of the road. She too could have been drinking at some wild works party, and with no other way of getting home, walking or hitch-hiking may have seemed a good idea at the time. Being young and, probably, good looking, she might have assumed getting a lift from a stranger would be easy.

While waiting for her answer, he tried to focus his attention on the road ahead. The next half mile was a stretch where more driving skill and concentration was required, a long sweeping curve to the right, after which the route dropped down a steep slope through a clump of oak and horse-chestnut trees, and then veered sharp left over a narrow hump-back bridge across a river before rising steeply on the far side. Fallen leaves on the wet surface of the road were a peril of which he was well aware. Turning into the bend, he caught sight of the glow from a set of headlights, the vehicle about to descend the hill on the far side. There was little concern; being so much further from the bridge, the other car would be well clear before he reached it. They would pass half way on the slope he was about to descend.

He heard a hiss of indrawn breath and gulp as she swallowed. “We were in a road accident.”

“Road accident? Where abouts? Not around here was it?” There had been no sign of an accident on this road that he had seen. “Was anyone hurt? Seriously hurt I mean.” Stupid, he thought, of course it would be long before she got onto this road, probably the other side of the town he had just left. Not surprising he had seen nothing.

“I think he‟s going to die.” With hands pressed against her cheeks, the voice was muffled, but Barry heard her words clearly enough.

“Die? The man that picked you up? Is he in hospital?” His mind reeled in attempt to grasp information, so that the questions tumbled one after another without allowing time for an answer. “How tragic, and Christmas too. Are the police involved? They must be if the accident was that serious. Bloody hell! Why on earth did they send you on your way in that state? Surely they would have…”

Other possibilities swam through his confusion. Perhaps she had not hung around waiting for the emergency services. Perhaps she had not wanted to get involved, that her presence in the car of a man who might be married may be construed in the wrong manner, so many possibilities. “Where did this accident happen?”

The approaching car had crossed the bridge the headlights sweeping left and upward into his eyes. The glare caused Barry to squint as he watched the side of the road ahead. The road was straight here, no bends he needed to negotiate, but staring at the lights would automatically draw him into a head-on collision. Dipping his own lights, he eased a foot onto the brake to reduce speed.

“On the bridge.”

“Bridge? Which bridge?” The approaching headlights appeared to remain on full beam. Barry raised his right hand to shield his eyes while with the other, he flicked the indicator dip switch control arm to alert the other driver and pressed the foot more firmly onto the brake pedal.

“The bridge ahead!” He sensed a trace of exasperation in her voice, as if she thought he was the one being stupid.

“This bridge?" Instinctively he turned his head to look at her while pressing his foot harder onto the brake. Her head was still pitched forward into her hands. "Where on this bridge?” The accident could not still be there or the approaching car would have been held up. The brake pedal felt different, spongy. He kicked down more viciously. There was no pressure beneath his foot until the pedal hit the floor of the car. There had been no indication of a fault when he braked sharply to avoid hitting the girl.

The headlights of the approaching vehicle illuminated the inside of the car. She looked up, turning toward him, her face lit in the harsh blue white beam of light. The blood froze in Barry's veins.

Drying blood was caked around her forehead from a gash disappearing into her scalp. It was blood plastering the hair to the side of her face. Blood and mucous oozed from her nose and mouth. The flesh on the cheeks and around her eyes was lacerated as if by shards of broken glass, bruised blue and purple, and swollen. But the eyes! Barry stared at them transfixed. They were nothing more than glowing, luminescent, white sightless orbs staring without emotion back at him.

“This bridge!” Her lips and lower jaw moved in slow disjointed manner as if each syllable was an effort to form. “This is where you killed me!” The interior of the car faded into darkness as the other vehicle passed without hitting them, but still Barry stared, mesmerised.

At the bottom of the hill, the red Honda Civic was travelling far too fast for the sharp bend. The last thing Barry remembered was the wailing, shrieking scream, but whether it was the girl screaming or whether it was his own scream, or even if it was the scream of tortured metal against the concrete and steel palisade of the bridge, he never knew.

News Flash: 24/12/2009 at 9:30pm

A fatal accident occurred this evening on the B6219, Barnswood to Filperton road, at Heron Bridge. One man died in the accident when a Honda Civic crashed through the bridge parapet. Details of the casualty will not be released until next of kin have been informed. Police suspect a passenger may have been in the vehicle at the time of the accident, but no body has yet been found. Any witnesses to the accident are requested to contact the police at Barnswood or your nearest police station as soon as possible.

© 2009 Robert A Read. aka Mysteral.


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