It’s been a while since I posted anything, but that doesn’t mean I dropped dead or went off the grid, or did anything exciting, to be honest. But damn! I find it hard to stay motivated with posts and social media.
So, today I have a second horror/suspense short story (<6k). It is about a character struggling with depression, that prevalent human trait which speaks loudest when we are at our most vulnerable: the moment we wake or try to fall asleep. It’s an insidious and poisonous little voice that seeks to undermine our ability to overcome our obstacles, whatever their size. Well, the protagonist of this story is in for a hard time…maybe he’ll find the tools and grit required to beat back his black dog. *I would like to mention that this story was edited by Joseph Sale, a wonderful author who you can learn more about from the link below:
This post’s title also mentions some exciting news, which there is, but as a proud, card-carrying pessimist–which is an exhausting hobby to pursue–I don’t celebrate until I have something cast-iron to celebrate. Anyway, here it goes: Laurie Blum Guest of the Re-naissance Agency contacted me recently about taking The Ferryman’s Toll (Hourglass #2) to the Frankfurt Book Fair in October. I am equal parts thrilled and subdued (see above), which is a funny feeling to have. Due to this I have temporarily unpublished Ferryman while it is being re-edited. Depending on whether or not a publisher picks it up at Frankfurt, the new and improved version will be available again at some point in the not-too-distant future; somewhere between several months to a year or so, but definitely before hover boards.
Fingers crossed. In the meantime, the first Hourglass is still available on Amazon. No pressure, just putting it out there.
On a related note, Hourglass #3 is currently being edited by the former Editor-in-Chief of Abaddon Books and Solaris Books (subsidiaries of Rebellion Publishing), courtesy of Laurie; so I know it’s in good hands and that I’ll get solid feedback to really fine-tune it.
On a related note, I have also temporarily unpublished Fable, because having been recently introduced to good editors via Laurie, I have realised just how inadequate my former editors have been (for example, Paul Witcover, a great author and pro-editor, has already helped me improve Ferryman tremendously; learn more about Paul at this link: http://www.sff.net/people/stilskin/ ), and I want the best possible version of Fable out there on the market, since I have such a soft spot for this weird, dark and violent high-school fantasy/horror.
Okay then, all caught up. And so, I promised a story of horror and suspense, and it would be a cheap ruse to sucker people in only to get an eyeful of Hourglass news and nothing more, so without further ado…Black Hands Inertia.
For the ten thousandth morning in a row, Ryan Dixon woke up, switched his alarm off, and felt nothing. For the ten thousandth morning in a row, two soot black hands appeared from empty space over his bed and set to violently smothering his face into the pillow. Ryan couldn’t breathe. His struggles were feeble against the brutal force of the pressing hands, the black fingers gripping his hair to keep their purchase, ensuring the only thing he inhaled was his own stale sweat. It was an old, tiresome routine, and with the desperate thrashings of an animal trapped in merciless jaws, he heaved himself off the couch into the gloomy, uninviting living room, losing a clump of his hair to locked fingers. His physical conditioning had improved if nothing else had. He got up and ran, not looking back. He had taken to habitually sleeping in a tracksuit and running shoes, anticipating misery’s greeting upon every waking, and snatching a bottle of water from the hallway table, he was out the front door, barely pausing to lock it behind him. Taking off down the rainy street, he didn’t look back, and he didn’t pace himself, launching himself past neighbours’ houses like a frightened missile.
Just keep going, he told himself. A frantic rhythm to match his slamming heart.
Just keep going.
Ryan used to hate exercise. Hated it as a boy. Hated it in P.E. class. Always hated it. And it wasn’t until his late twenties that he had discovered its value, its curative properties, limited as they were for his ailment. Soles pounding the pavement, he rounded the street corner onto the main avenue, feeling the black presence truly losing its grip now. Not just the hands, but that poisonous little pip which sat in the seat of his mind each morning.
No sense in stopping now though. It could very easily catch-up to him. He had to make sure he put some serious distance between them. Earn that rush, that exhilarating burn of sweet pain which scoured all traces of its presence like acid. Without slowing, he took a deep gulp of water, swilled it, and spat it onto the glistening paving stones. The rain invigorated him. He thought of nature and green spaces, fresh water and clean air, a slow-paced, purposeful life.
His pumping arms and legs couldn’t lead him there in permanence, but they could at least pay a passing visit.
He was heading for the dog park half a mile away. Not a bad place, he’d learned, but small. A neat greenish sanctuary in a dreary industrial town.
Once there, Ryan would try to keep his spirits up. Endorphins were the key. They were the miracle treatment to stave off the monster that sat waiting over his sleeping body each morning.
Ryan’s strong arms juddered like gale-whipped pennants as he gritted his way through one final excruciating pull-up. He dropped down from the monkey bars, resting his palms on his head, feeling his rain and sweat-soaked hair as he walked circles on the wet concrete, huffing through his nose. Anytime his brain attempted to bolt down a rabbit hole of thought, he’d suck in another great breath and shove the thought out of his head like he was performing another physical rep. Thinking would only increase his chances of finding problems.
Bliss slowly pooled in his head. Serenity. Nothing but him, his thudding heart, and the gentle birdsong. The park was lonely at this early hour. From the top of the hill, he stared across the open fields, bordered by a thick defence of trees, beyond which the grey city stirred.
He lowered his hands and picked a piece of rusting green paint from his callused palm, courtesy of the climbing frame. He had done it. He had found his centre. His oasis. That calm little island nestled away somewhere inside the loud, neurotic geography of his head.
Inhaling the sweet scent of damp grass, he watched the hazy grey sky showering the night’s funk and muck off the city.
Taking a sip of water, he checked his phone on reflex. No messages. No calls. Only a world’s indifference. However, his eye did linger on the background image. A stock photo of Route 66. A route he had never travelled, but had often wondered on. The open road. Freedom. From his life, maybe, but from himself…?
He put his phone away. The loneliness would keep. The endorphin rush keeping him buoyant. It would be safe to return home for now. It was his day off work today, and Ryan was a creature of habit. Habits were good. Habits were safe. Habits maintained the illusion of calm and inertia.
After his shower, Ryan skipped his otherwise routine breakfast of oatmeal and blueberries, wanting to get back out of the house as quickly as possible. He felt a burning need to keep on riding this train of momentum for as long as he could.
He had become a regular in a pleasant little cafe called Lavigne’s in Aigburth. The area always seemed possessed of a pleasant calm, with lots of trees and fragrant foliage and a general air of contemplative quiet. The coffee was nice, the freshly prepared food was always great, and Ryan was often able to get a table by the window where he could watch people amble by, walking their dogs or waiting on a bus; even with the light rain slowly becoming a deluge, such activities seldom changed. And Lavigne himself—or Georges—an expat from France, was on a first name basis with near enough every customer who walked through his door, quick to engage them in easy conversation with his melodious accent, which Ryan believed only heightened the coarseness of his own Scouse dialect.
Ryan finished his roast beef sandwich with a hint of glumness. The meal hit the spot, but with the food gone, he knew he would soon need to head off to find another distraction. Wiping his hands on a serviette, he glanced at the empty plate, wishing he hadn’t declined Georges’ offer of chips, which were made in-house, still wrapped in their crinkly skin, and thick enough to choke a seagull. But he had passed on them out of a recently developed reflex, conscious of their calorie content.
Since overcoming his first crippling bout of dark spells, Ryan surprised nobody more than himself when he started exercising. Being the manager of a chain sports shop, he realised the irony of being overweight and embarrassingly out of shape. And so in a dire need to find something to hold onto, he took advantage of an employee discount for a local gym. Getting into fitness so late into his twenties had him feeling silly at first: Heaven forbid he make some sort of scene at the gym by collapsing under a barbell or skidding off a treadmill. But after that first session, he felt more invigorated than he had in a long, long time. And of course, it wasn’t too late a stage in the game to start exercising. Far from it. He was still young, and had noticed men who must be in their sixties putting him to shame. Yes, he had youth; sadly, he knew that compared to many people, it was wasted on him, for Ryan was great at one thing in particular, and that was standing still. A wallflower forced to watch his petals wilt and die off one by one until he faded into yellowing wisp.
But he had lost sixteen pounds of booze and fast-food weight since starting the training regimen, and toned the rest into a finely tuned machine of physical functionality. Really, fitness was the only thing he had any control over, and on more than one occasion he had haunted himself with thoughts of what would happen when he got older and started to gradually lose everything he had gained, or if he got sick. No, not if. When. Sickness was like experience, the older you got, the more you acquired.
Actually, there was something else Ryan had always been good at besides posing as a tree: he was precocious in his gloom, having first picked up his trail of dark spells as a young boy not even ten years old. Over the years he had delved into various moments of his past, searching for possible answers to the root cause of his melancholy, but it was about as useful as spelunking deep into the darkest veins of the earth without a torchlight. In hindsight, he had never experienced any key moments of tragedy which could have wounded him. And throughout his youth, it always seemed more of a sense of encroaching despair, like black oil slowly seeping under a door, rather than a sudden violent gaping ache.
And whether it was an unconscious sense of survival or just the swift and bright energy of a playful childhood, he had always found a way to soak up the oil leaking under the door.
He used to have fortifications.
Time and poor, meek decisions had removed those battlements one by one, so that when he hit twenty-nine he was left unguarded. Forced to watch that viscous sludge as it gathered and seeped, he felt those cold black hands seize him fully by the throat for the very first time.
Georges veered into view, a kitchen towel slung perpetually over his shoulder, keen to hear how the food was but already knowing it was great. Ryan had cleared the plate of every crumb and shred of salad.
‘I needed that, thanks.’
‘My pleasure,’ Georges said, and then like a chummy conspirator, ‘maybe next time try some chips too.’
Ryan raised his coffee to his lips, smirking at how Georges was constantly trying to offload his chips onto customers, and wondered why he hadn’t opened a chippy instead of a cafe.
Georges whisked the plate away, off into the small kitchen full of chatter.
That’s when Ryan saw the form standing underneath the bus shelter. Vague, but definitely there. It couldn’t fool him. The heavy rain was rendering the plastic partition into a downpour of squiggling worms, but Ryan still saw the dark shape slowly pressing its face against the plastic. Watching him. Reminding him. Knowing he could never escape it for long. It didn’t need to find him in his cold, empty house, and he couldn’t outrun it forever. It could find him anywhere. All it needed was an opening. A lull in his mood.
Ryan needed a distraction.
Having left Lavigne’s, Ryan blew past the bus shelter, not daring to acknowledge the presence waiting within. Speed-walking back to his car, he slid in and quickly found himself taking random lefts and rights up and down residential streets as though he was searching for a missing person, and in a way, that wasn’t far from the truth. Maybe there was a version of him out there in the world or the universe which had been capable of taking command of his life, of having the hunger for success, or at least for the pleasurable things. Deep down he knew he would never find that particular shadow of himself. No, not that one. Only the depressor which was back on the hunt.
He put miles between them, having no destination in mind. He had already drove past the lush estates of Otterspool Promenade, and had left the tourist-packed docks bordering the city centre before even realising he was on a set course for Waterloo.
Ryan felt a twinge somewhere inside himself, and after an uncomfortable few seconds, he understood it was a question; one quiet and morbidly curious. He had asked himself the same question many times over these last barren years, but then, same as now, he couldn’t bring himself to answer it.
Do I want to die?
On reflex, his eyes flicked to the rear view mirror, dreading the sight of his tenebrous doppelgänger waiting in his backseat. The seat was empty.
Still…did he? Did he want to die?
It wouldn’t be without its upsides.
To finally know peace. To be free of the dark entity always tailing him the way a mugger tails a drunk. No more nights where he lay in bed thinking of how he was too far adrift to change anything in his life. Life had passed him by, but somehow, without having the sense to understand how at the time, it was he who had allowed it to happen. Over and over. Again and again. Being offered choices to do something worthwhile, to make something of himself or belong to something, only for him to be wait and wallow in a quagmire of self-doubt.
And he wasn’t getting any younger. Opportunities are the purview of the young. Mid-thirties might not be heart attack territory just yet, especially with the physical condition he was now keeping himself in, but he was swiftly approaching the final exit to make something of himself, or be forever blighted by insignificance.
But what could he do?
His foot pressed down a little harder on the accelerator, the windshield wipers batting crazed arcs against the downpour.
He couldn’t go back to university as a mature student. God, the embarrassment. Surrounded by young twenty-somethings with heads full of ambition, groins full of eagerness, and tongues loaded with quiet, biting remarks about the old guy in the lecture theatre.
No chance in hell. He’d already been to uni, bought the t-shirt, and collected nothing but loan repayments and a degree long past its use-by-date. A 2:1 in ecology, and zero post-grad follow-up, unlike his classmates. Was it too late to make a career with that? He suspected it was. The field would be saturated with graduates younger than him, with minds still fresh with knowledge.
He flicked his right turn signal, changing lanes, hearing the hiss of his tyres smoothly scrubbing the tarmac.
Could he earn a trade? He always thought it would be handy to be an electrician, or a carpenter. Not a plumber though, because whilst he had nothing but admiration for them, he knew he couldn’t stomach having to deal with the refuse of a thousand bowels.
But again, no. Placements were limited, and the courses would no doubt be looking for younger lads and lasses in their teens and twenties.
Something plummeted in his chest, all the way down into that bottomless pit of despair. He knew he’d left it too late.
And it wasn’t only an exciting or worthwhile career he’d failed to seize. It was a family.
The worst part was, he never actually wanted one. Ever. And was frankly baffled by how everyone he had ever known either wanted one or had one, something which only exacerbated his own feelings of alienation and abandonment. It made him feel faulty. Like a dud, tossed onto the small pile of society’s defective breeders. Why was he born this way? Why couldn’t he be impassioned to pursue what all those other people did? The regular folk.
He gripped the wheel tightly, knuckles straining.
Why did he seem to lack this vital component of life? The charge to succeed and be something greater?
He was a lifelong drifter. A caterpillar which would never grow its wings.
It was safe to say the endorphins and the upbeat mood had evaporated into a grey viscosity. He was vulnerable again.
As expected, Ryan felt the dark presence in the back seat. No speed or distance could ever beat it. Not when it emanated from within. He anticipated its cold fingers, rough and cold as slate, encircling the back of his neck. But they didn’t. It sat there, still as a dummy, the weak afternoon light forming a rainy penumbra about its head. It wasn’t attacking him because it knew, it knew Ryan was already slipping, already sinking into the black. Its mere presence was enough to spur him on to destruction.
The flyover was thirty yards away, and still being hammered by the rain. Lanes slick. Ryan hadn’t checked the tread on his tyres in a good while. Maybe they were still safe and legal. Maybe they weren’t.
He wondered if forty miles per hour would be enough to put his car through the concrete abutment, or would he crash its nose upwards like an orca leaping from the deep blue, upwards and over the side. He didn’t think he would land on any cars below the flyover. If he timed it right, his car might impact onto the large roundabout below. But then, maybe not, it was difficult to tell. He didn’t want to hurt anybody else.
Either way, there was no guarantee flying off the overpass would kill him. A fresh nightmare of a thought swam up like a tadpole to meet him: him, locked in a hospital bed, paralysed below the neck. Locked in his own useless body. A meat locker.
There had to be a better way.
He could feel the itch of the dark figure staring at the back of his head, his neck. Surely his unwanted passenger would help him find a better way out.
Ryan left his car abandoned on a busy side street off of South Road in Waterloo. It was on double yellows, and he knew he’d be getting either ticketed or clamped, but what did it matter?
His shadow had followed him down the road, through umbrellas and ungainly marchers seeking shelter in cafes and high street stores. Ryan walked up the slight incline towards the train station, sensing his pursuer keeping the wary pace of a patient wolf stalking wounded but still dangerous prey. Ryan crossed the road with barely a glance, weighing up the odds of dying from a passing car or bus.
Now a train…?
That would certainly do the trick. The station was right there. All it would take would be one little step off the platform. People do it all the time. Ryan thought about how many of them had been plagued by their own dark intruders, circling loan sharks coming to collect on life’s potential, lent out at conception: potential ultimately squandered, but carrying a very high interest.
Leaving the busy train station behind him, Ryan felt a dark surge run up his spine, a new jolt of melancholia. His dread’s patience was waning. It was becoming belligerent, tired of the silly routines, and now fully craved his death.
Ryan had a sudden urge to sprint as fast as he could. To not stop until his legs fell out from under him, leaving him crawling across the pavement like a drunk tossed from a pub. The endorphins would blot out his shadow, temporarily.
That was the problem. He was tired of the struggle. Tired of every new day and its unshakable misery.
So he didn’t run, or drop and start doing push-ups in the street like a crazy person. Instead, he walked into the nearest pub. His shadow didn’t seem to object. Being a part of him, it would know what he knew, which meant it was fully aware of the double-edged sword which was alcohol.
Ryan would feel good, perhaps even great after the first few. But it never took long for the ale to reveal itself to be the conman that it was, leaving him with nothing but empty promises of happiness and fulfilment. Once in that head state, he would be more susceptible to the shadow’s final act.
The first pint did little to diminish the dark presence, which sat and watched him from across the table. Even without a face, that smooth black surface seemed to quietly seethe, all hunger and impatience. Ryan fought to ignore it, staring out the window at the small beer garden, a forgotten pint glass sloshing with a little beer and a lot of rain. The pub was pretty quiet, with only a few small gatherings of drinkers spaced out about the place.
The second pint had him feeling a slight boost. Even though he knew it was bullshit, it gave him the energy to begin the lie.
Just keep drinking. You’ll know when to stop: when the rollercoaster’s about to drop and barrel down towards the mouth of anger and depression. A few more pints, and maybe you’ll keep it at bay this time. Break this dark spell. Make some changes with your life. Find a hobby. Do something new.
Ryan smiled bleakly at the pint glass, feeling that walking void hovering on his every thought and move. A few more big gulps, and the thing was now starting to fade from his view.
Buying the third pint, he threw a few pound into the tip glass, and felt like he was starting to walk on air. Having cut booze from his life, it surprised him how little it now took to get a buzz. Reaching his table, he noticed how the seat opposite was now completely empty. The darkness, perhaps the one constant friend he had left, had departed. It almost made him chuckle, realising how depression itself might be the only thing which could give him purpose. Isn’t that what all of this dreary shit was? The getting into shape, the abstaining from booze, the mundane but dependable routines, the fighting back of an outright existential horror, was that not purpose?
If it was, it wasn’t enough. Ryan downed the pint, and wanted to feel the rain on his face.
The beach was a dreary sight, sand rain-swollen and turned the colour of fudge. The turbid surf rolling in and back out like it was all one big monotonous chore. And the silver-grey horizon only promised more rain until it drowned the whole world.
Ryan had the place to himself. At least that was something.
He didn’t know how long he stood on the dark tide-line, soaked to the bone, but he did know how light he felt. It was almost as if he had glimpsed a scrap of optimism, plucking a piece of shining gold from the tightly packed sand. He had read somewhere that that’s how suicide felt to some people near the end, those lost and wounded souls who just wanted to step off the carousel. No more waking up to choking hands, rough, seizing, dragging them down into the gloaming depths. The freedom of oblivion from troubles unconquerable, and the sheer endless dread of worrying about tomorrow.
Before he knew it, he was walking towards the approaching surf, the foamy mass racing in to greet him. It swept over his trainers, soaking his socks, then his shins, knees. He was wading into the cold water, feeling it take ownership of him with its frigid weight. He wasn’t scared. Instead, he only waded harder into the water until it was up to his chest, robbing him of his breath. With a teeth-chattering gasp, he threw himself under the water into swirling darkness, and swam further out. The beers’ merriment and bravado left him quickly, leaving him alone in the roiling darkness.
No, not alone.
Something grabbed his ankle, and he didn’t need to strain his eyesight against the silty water to see what it was. His shadow was pulling him down, determined to assist him in his end. The dark hands were strong, this he knew intimately, feeling the phantom chokings of too many mornings. He allowed it to drag him down like undertow, seeing all the opportunities he’d botched or passed on drift through his thoughts like flotsam and jetsam. He was about to expel the last of his breath, when something glowed like stoked coal in his darkening mind. If he was this prepared to end it all, why not take one final chance before writing his epilogue? He had a good chunk of money saved from all of his years spent doing nothing. Why not take that road trip down Route 66 he’d often mused on? Buy a one-way plane ticket, and if he still feels so utterly devoid of anything but ennui and sorrow, he could kick the bucket with a bottle of something strong as the sun sank into the Pacific.
With a sudden paroxysm of sheer need, Ryan kicked his legs, and felt those dark hands continue to pull at him with a frustrated fury. He kicked, and kicked, and clawed up for the surface, practically feeling his cold-sapped muscles groan against the weight of his clothing.
His darker Self released his shoes, and with one single mighty stroke, darted up to meet him. Its empty, featureless face floated in front of his like some chilling marine alien considering taking a bite out of his cheek or nose, or maybe his lips. Ryan’s lungs were on fire, and as his eyes bulged in longing for the surface, he hoped those dark hands wouldn’t gird his throat, wrenching the last dregs of air from him. With a few more desperate kicks, he realised he’d left the shadow floating below him, and with one final glance down before breaking the foam ceiling, he saw it fade away, pulling itself deeper and further into the stirred cloak of sediment.
The first breath was so deep and vital it practically scraped Ryan’s throat raw. He fought his way to shore like a capsized sailor renouncing the sea, and lay face-down in the cold sand, nose skewed against the grain, breathing in ragged breaths. Tears poured, lost and anonymous in the torrents. He didn’t know how long he lay there, but at some point the rain finally stopped. He rolled over, glancing about in shame and horror at what he had just attempted. With some small relief, he saw that he still had the beach to himself, with no witnesses. But how long before a dog walker or somebody thankful for the rain’s passing decided to go for a ramble along the coastline? He had to get out of here. Get back to his car. He had to book a plane ticket, and get away, chase down this glimmer of hope.
Inertia could be lethal.
Ryan’s arm was catching a nice tan on the door of his rental car. The Arizona air was a warm devil’s breath, wafting through the open windows, and the road ahead seemed to go on forever. The late afternoon traffic was flowing smoothly and sparse. Ryan felt at peace.
After the beach incident, he had spoken to his regional manager, explaining a need to take some time off from work for personal reasons, carefully omitting the suicide attempt. Carl was a decent guy, and since Ryan had been nothing short of a model employee since he first started in the stock room ten years ago, he told him to take the month off rather than Ryan’s initial request of two weeks. Ryan suspected he hadn’t been hiding his depression as well as he thought, judging from the solicitous look Carl had given him that morning. Ryan left graciously, promising Carl he’d let off some steam and enjoy himself whilst on his big trip.
Nothing but 2000-plus miles of open road, big cities, and new experiences.
Ryan felt like a balloon breezing through a cloudless blue sky as he overtook the big rig, feeling the air whip against his face.
The past three weeks had gone by so quickly, and were unlike any he had experienced in five years going on eternity. Waking up in motels, feeling nothing more than a minor disconcertion instead of those throttling fingers the colour of fresh tar at midnight. To wake in such a way was essentially euphoric, and he’d set off each morning for a day’s worth of idling tourism, completely untethered from the complications of his old desolate life back home.
A little past ten this morning, he had felt something bump about in his mind for the first time in weeks. A tentative clawing, like a short, chewed fingernail itching against wood. He had switched to decaf, finished his unhealthy breakfast, and jumped back behind the wheel to take his mind off of it, dead set on a slight detour off of Route 66 to visit the Grand Canyon. He wanted to see it for the same reason most people did: to personally witness the majesty of such a colossal monument to humanity’s insignificance. The vast beauty which spanned epochs was something which humbled the most immodest of souls. But as the morning turned to late afternoon, and the miles crawled by on the odometer, a part of Ryan started to wonder if there was another reason he wanted to see that great big hole in the Earth.
Had he been hearing that finger nail scratching for longer than he had first realised? In those nocturnal stretches which left his sleeping body vulnerable, was something seeping under his door?
He overtook a few more cars, his foot subconsciously pressing down onto the accelerator a little harder, and as he changed lanes he heard a great angry honk. He waved an apologetic hand, and as his eyes cut to the rear view to glimpse the annoyed driver, he saw the black figment in the middle of his backseat, sitting patiently. One finger scratching at the leather of his seat.
His eyes cut back to the road ahead, filled with urgency and denial. He was feeling good! Wasn’t he? Why now? He knew why, of course, because these feelings of liberation and happiness would soon be coming to an end. He’d be back home. Back to reality. But this time he’d have a lot less money in his savings account. And no other pipedream to muse on.
Buoyancy never lasted forever. And his tormentor would be back soon enough to pull him under. To choke him upon a new morning’s confusion. To wrap its clamping fingers about his heart until some coroner declared him another victim of stress.
Ryan glanced in the rear view, finding nothing but cream-coloured upholstery; even the irate tailgater had disappeared into a filling station.
Ryan sought inspiration to guide him from darkness, but then, he thought about simply speeding his rental right into that enormous gorge.
He let the miles breeze by, knowing he still had some time to decide. He got onto the less congested Desert View Drive as the sky turned bloody and bruised, and kept to the speed limit along the expansive paved road which skirted the canyon. Knots of people blurred past, parked along various overlooks in astonishment at the panoramic views, smiling for photographs and talking happily amongst themselves. Families. Friends. Lovers. Ryan checked the backseat. His one true companion was back again.
He edged down on the accelerator, just a little, just testing.
The snaking route was nothing short of marvellous, and Ryan wondered glumly whether he would ever see such beauty again? The presence behind him seemed to adjust its position. Following a few bends in the road, he noticed that he was approaching another lookout: Grandview Point.
He still had time.
Time to turn things around. Find a purpose. Find something to stave off the darkness once and for all!
He thought about the dreary routines, and the people he could never connect with on a deeper level, and living a life which was little more than an exercise in running down the clock.
He turned north onto the mile-long stretch leading straight up to the lookout point. There were still a lot of tourists grouped about, coming and going, and some giving him strange looks: was he even allowed to drive along this section of road? Ryan wasn’t sure, because he wasn’t paying much attention to anything besides his passenger and its smothering gloom.
The speedometer purred, the needle rising gently.
Ryan saw ample vantage points along the road where he could potentially sail his car off the side without hurting anybody else.
Was this is it?
Was this what he really wanted?
To end it on his own terms, a spectacular finish to a bland life?
The car was gradually gaining more speed, the engine governed by Ryan’s bleak verve, working up to the deed. A few passers-by called out to him, but it was all incomprehensible. The dark passenger was sitting beside him now, goading him with a faceless stare.
Ryan felt his heart banging away. He was basting in a nervous sweat now.
Should he be scared if he really wanted this? He wasn’t this scared at the beach.
The speedometer kept rising.
He thought of his future, and saw nothing.
But was that a bad thing? Was it nothing, or was it a chance to do something? An opportunity waiting to be seized.
The passenger was becoming twitchy.
The needle rose. The engine roared. The nose of the car was angling towards a clear path of free-falling destruction. He took a hot, shallow breath, feeling drunk on the view he was careening towards.
Nothingness or opportunity? It was for him to decide.
He still had time to change his life’s course. He put his foot down hard on the pedal.
He still had time to fix it.
He still had time to fix it.
He still had time to fix it.
He still had…
Daniel James is an author of speculative (and sometimes dark and weird) fiction from Liverpool, England.
He is the recipient of two Kirkus Star reviews for his character-driven, action-packed urban fantasy novels Hourglass and The Ferryman’s Toll. Hourglass was also voted one of their Best 100 Indie novels of 2021.