Originally published in Sinister Tales, Volume 3, Issue 2.
A piercing scream echoed around the room. Lee Robinson shook his head and turned off the TV in disgust. The only thing frightening about this film was that there was anyone twisted enough to have made it. He tossed the remote control onto his bedside table and glanced at his watch, which was a top of the range Omega Chronograph. Still early enough to arrange a night on the town. He grabbed hold of his phone, methodically punching in a number.
Lee was a naturally handsome man, though most people were inclined to say he was a trifle fastidious. Given the amount of time he spent in front of mirrors and his unwillingness to wear anything but the finest designer clothes, this was not something he could easily deny.
He gave a dissatisfied grunt as his phone droned out an engaged tone. The next number he dialed left him on the receiving end of a quirky voicemail message, which only served to irritate him further. After that, his luck changed for the better and he began getting through to people.
The first person who agreed to come out with Lee was his friend Mick, though this was on the condition that Lee give him a lift. Mick lived a few miles outside the city, but as Lee was in the mood for a drive, he readily agreed.
By the time Lee had finished phoning his friends, the number accompanying him on his night out had swelled to eight. They had arranged to meet at a small club in the city called The Menagerie.
He whistled a tune as he left his apartment and stepped into the roomy elevator at the end of the hall. Moments later, he was striding across the parking lot towards his car.
He smiled as he pressed the button on his key fob and the alarm deactivated. The inexorable march of technology never failed to amaze him. Turning off the alarm in his first car had involved fumbling around under the dashboard for the right switch; now it took no effort at all. He didn’t know how it worked, he just knew that it did, which was the way he liked it. As far as he was concerned, the mysteries of the automobile were best left to the experts. He knew his was a Porsche, and he knew it moved like a rocket, but it might have been an alien spacecraft for all he could say about its inner workings.
He ducked into the gleaming vehicle and settled into the seat. It felt good to be heading out for the night. He thrust his key into the ignition, slammed the gear stick into reverse and backed carelessly out of his parking space.
Lee drove in much the same way as he lived his life - fast and with little concern for anyone else. He couldn’t remember how many people he'd stabbed in the back to get where he was. Suffice it to say if he'd a dollar for each of them, he'd be a millionaire. He wasn’t always proud of the man he was, but in his experience, a ruthless attitude was the only way to get ahead.
He changed down to third gear for a tight bend. The Porsche slowed slightly, but still tore around the corner dangerously fast. With an exclamation of annoyance, he shoved the gear stick into fourth and pressed down on the accelerator. Another bend loomed out of the darkness ahead and he slowed again.
Damn this stupid road and damn whichever idiot had decided to close off the main highway. There were far too many bends and far too few street lights. Reaching what appeared to be a long straight, he changed up a gear and accelerated impatiently.
Just as he was about to change into fifth, a hairpin bend caught him by surprise. Biting back the need to swear, he stamped on his brakes and pushed the stick down into third. For a moment, it seemed as if it might not be enough and he was going to spin off the road, then the corner ended.
He struggled to regulate the car as it skidded wildly around, failing to notice a figure in tattered jeans and a baggy jumper stumbling along ahead. Before he knew what was happening, he had slammed into the unfortunate man, sending him tumbling over his hood. It was like a scene from a nightmare - the dull thud, the jolt, the screech of his brakes as he came to a halt.
In a daze, he wrenched open the door and staggered towards the unmoving figure. The man lay on his stomach with his arms and legs splayed out to the sides. Lee stretched out his hand and pulled him over onto his back. He had imagined the man would move or at least groan, but he did not. In fact, he exhibited no sign of life whatsoever. Lee studied him uneasily. He wasn't dead, was he?
It was at this point Lee noticed the man's vulgar appearance. Unkempt gray hair stood out at crazy angles from a pitted face that was leathery with age and covered in grime. His clothes hung off him in tattered shreds and he was clutching a discolored bottle of cheap vodka, which was a little over a quarter full. To make matters worse, he stank.... a particularly rank combination of alcohol and piss.
It was all he could do not to turn away in disgust. This man - obviously a tramp - offended his every notion of what a decent human being should be. In the circumstances, he could hardly be expected to view the accident as any worse than if he had hit an animal. Men like this were parasitic burdens on society and few mourned their passing.
He was getting ahead of himself, though. He didn't even know for sure if the man was dead. Gingerly, he reached out to check his pulse. The vile stench assailed his nostrils, but he gritted his teeth against it and placed two fingers on the grubby neck. He searched for some minutes, but found nothing. Dead as a bearskin rug!
This left him with two alternatives - turn himself in to the police or drive off and hope he got away with it. He looked at the reeking corpse at his feet, then gazed longingly at his car.
He knew the right thing to do was to face the consequences of his actions, but the thought of what those consequences might be filled him with dread. “You aren’t robbing me of my future,” he told the corpse callously. He shot a quick look around to ensure that nobody was watching, then hurried back to his car. Once inside he wasted no time in firing up the engine and racing away.
Lee wasn’t usually the kind of person to suffer from a guilty conscience, but couldn’t help mentally regurgitating the night's events as he sat alone at one of the bars in The Menagerie a few hours later. If only Mick hadn't needed a lift, then none of this would have happened.
“Is this a private moan, or can anyone join in?” said a voice behind him. "If anyone can join in, then I’ve got a grumble of my own. I've just seen this really cute guy at the bar, but he's been too caught up in his own thoughts to notice me. My name’s Jenny. What's yours?"
"Listen Jenny, I'm..." Lee began. The sentence died in his throat as he turned around and found himself looking at the most perfect pair of breasts he had ever seen. Acting out of habit, he ran an appraising eye over the rest of his self-professed admirer. Her legs seemed to stretch to infinity and her delicately slanted green eyes had an exotic beauty to them that was completely captivating. A cascade of shining brown hair framed her flawless face and her short black dress clung to her body like a second skin, emphasizing the things that clothes are generally supposed to conceal.
Jenny smiled. "You're what?"
Remembering what he had just said, Lee fumbled around for a way to finish the sentence. One thing was for sure, he wasn't about to tell a woman this beautiful that he wasn’t in the mood for company. Especially as it was no longer true. The mere sight of her had banished his former guilt. "I'm happy to meet you, though I’d be happier if it had happened years ago. The name’s Lee Robinson."
"And is Lee Robinson alone?" Jenny asked.
"I am at the moment,” Lee replied. "I came here with some friends, but I seem to have misplaced them." In truth, he had found himself ill-disposed to join in with his friends’ mirth and had left them to their drunken antics hours ago. “Perhaps you'd like to join me in a drink?”
Jenny nodded enthusiastically. "I'll have a Jack and coke.”
As he waited for the barman to return with their order, Lee made a concerted effort to stop his eyes from roaming to Jenny's bosom, but it was hopeless. He had never seen such a magnificent cleavage! It hardly mattered that the woman must have had implants. If implants could make the fairer sex so attractive, then he was all in favor of them.
There was a clinking of glass as the barman placed the drinks in front of him. Lee was about to hand Jenny her Jack and Coke, when he noticed something that made his mouth go dry and sent a shiver down his spine. Standing malevolently a little way down the bar was a discolored bottle of cheap vodka a little over a quarter full.
There was no doubt in Lee's mind it was the same bottle he had seen the tramp clutching earlier. The question was how it had ended up in The Menagerie? Was it possible he had been mistaken about the tramp being dead? It seemed unlikely. Could the bottle had been left there by someone else then - someone who had witnessed the accident and wanted to draw his attention to the fact. He looked around suspiciously, but nobody seemed even remotely interested in him.
He decided in the end that he was just being paranoid. After all, one bottle of vodka looks very like another. He turned to have another look at it, but to his amazement, it was no longer there. He blinked his eyes in case they had deceived him, but the bottle had vanished.
"Is anything wrong?" Jenny asked.
Lee was not prepared to share his thoughts with his new acquaintance, so he threw a compliment at her as a way of turning the conversation, "Wrong? What could be wrong when I am with a girl as lovely as you?"
Jenny grinned. "What shall we drink to?"
Lee thought for a moment about replying that they should drink to her plastic surgeon, but said in the end, “To whatever brought you here tonight."Jenny raised her glass for the toast and leant forward to kiss him on the cheek.
“Can I tell you something?" Lee asked, as he cuddled up to Jenny on the leather sofa in his apartment a few hours later.
"If it's about how ravishingly beautiful I am, how fate has brought us together, and how there will never be a more perfect night for us to come together in the act of love, then no,” she told him. “I’ve heard it all before."
He grinned weakly. "It was something like that, but not quite as eloquent. Would you mind if I borrow that little speech for future use?"
Jenny laughed. "I wouldn't if I were you. Most women prefer honesty."
"But you're not like most women," he said. "Tell me about yourself Jenny, because I want more than anything to get to know you." He didn’t mean a word of this, of course, but he found it greatly improved his chances of getting intimate with a woman's body if he made her believe he was interested in getting intimate with her mind.
"What do you want to know?" she asked.
Lee hardly heard, staring fixedly at a discolored bottle on the coffee table. This time he was adamant it was the tramp's. He was about to ask Jenny whether she could see it, when a terrible thought popped into his head. Jenny had come up and started talking to him only a short while after his accident and had been present both times the bottle had appeared. Was it possible she was responsible? If so, he had no intention of letting her know how much she was getting to him. He'd make out everything was normal. He answered her question quickly, "For starters, why don't you tell me what you do for a living?"
Jenny raised her eyebrows coquettishly. “I have a better idea." She stood up from the sofa and slowly unzipped her dress.
He did his best to focus - this was what he had been waiting all night to see, for God's sake - but found his gaze irresistibly drawn to the coffee table. This time it hardly surprised him to see that the bottle was gone.
Lee rolled off Jenny's exquisite body onto the bed and lay staring at the ceiling. He had never had sex that good with anyone. “That was wonderful."
She twisted around to look at him, propping herself up on her elbow. "I'll bet you say that to all the girls."
"Perhaps,” he admitted, “but this time, I mean it. We should do this again some time."
"Should we?" she said softly.
He gave her a sidelong glance. "Didn’t you enjoy yourself?“
"Of course I did,“ she told him. “It’s just I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I’m not looking to get tied down."
He grinned. “That's usually my line. If I give you my word I’m under no illusions, will you give me your phone number?"
“As long as you promise not to pass it around to your friends," she joked.
He raised his fingers in a parody of a scout salute. “I swear I will treasure it more than my own life. Give me a second and I'll my address book."
“Your little black book, you mean,” she said knowingly.
"That's right,” he agreed with a guilty smile, "and if you play your cards right, you might just get a five star rating." He clambered out of the bed and strolled into the adjoining study. He located the address book in his desk and waved it triumphantly through the bedroom door.
Jenny smiled in amusement.
He glanced at the kitchen, feeling suddenly thirsty. “Would you like a drink?"
"That would be great," she replied. "Have you got any orange juice?”
He nodded his head. "Sure." He moved through to the kitchen and pulled open the fridge. What he saw inside drove all thought of orange juice from his head. In the middle of the top shelf, there was a bottle of vodka a little over a quarter full. It was all he could do not to scream. The only explanation seemed to be that he was going mad. He had been with Jenny constantly since their arrival, so there was no way she could have interfered with the contents of his fridge. The prospect of insanity terrified him, but if it was on the cards, he decided he would prefer to know about it sooner rather than later. Which meant finding out for sure what was happening and the only way to do that seemed to be to drive back to the place where he had hit the tramp and see if the bottle was still there.
He ran through to the bedroom and began pulling on his clothes. He couldn't tell Jenny what he was doing, so he said instead, "I have to go out. I would very much like to find you here when I get back, but I'll understand if you're not." He kissed her gently on the cheek, then dashed out of his front door.
The scene of the accident was exactly as Lee had left it. He pulled over at the side of the road and strode over to examine the corpse. He paused for a moment, eyes shifting from side to side. He had the distinct impression someone was watching him, but apart from a few insects, the place appeared to be deserted.
He swallowed noisily and fixed his gaze on the dead tramp. Just as he had feared, the bottle was still there.
Before he could fully consider the connotations of this, the silence was shattered by the sound of his Porsche thundering into life. He whirled around in amazement and watched with wide eyes as the car turned slowly in the road. Shielding his eyes against the glare of the headlights, he struggled to make out who was driving. Gradually, the shadows inside the car molded themselves into solid objects.
He had expected to see some murderous assassin behind the wheel. What he saw instead was infinitely more frightening. The driver’s seat was empty. His brain screamed at him that this was impossible, but the more he stared, the more his eyes told him it was the truth.
He shook his head convulsively as the car's engine revved. Was it possible that the night’s events were the work of a certain tramp's vengeful spirit. No, they couldn't be. The very idea of ghosts was preposterous.
Abruptly he realized the car was moving towards him. With a strangled cry of fear, he spun around and sprinted down the road. If he had entertained any doubts about the car’s malevolence, they were dispelled by the way it accelerated towards him as he started running.
His lungs pounded and his stomach clenched into a stitch, but he ignored these inconveniences and kept going. His very life depended on getting away and he had every intention of doing so. He was still telling himself this when the Porsche thumped into the back of his legs and forced him downwards. He screamed wretchedly, but there was nobody to hear...
“What do you make of it?" asked one of the two police officers who stood looking at Lee's body after it had been covered up and placed at the side of the road beside the tramp’s.
The other officer scratched his balding head, glancing at the notes he had made in his pocketbook. "I reckon whoever hit them must have been so freaked out that he took off on foot."
The first officer twiddled his moustache thoughtfully. "What puzzles me is what two such unlikely characters were doing together in the first place. Perhaps..."
He was interrupted by a third officer calling out angrily from beside Lee's Porsche, "Look what I've found.” He stalked across to join his colleagues, holding a discolored bottle of vodka. "This was on the seat of the car! I think we can safely say this is another drink driving case.” The other two nodded their agreement, and eyed the two corpses. “Such a senseless waste of life," said the one with the moustache, "and all because some city slicker was too full of himself to call a cab.”
The right of C. J. Carter-Stephenson to be identified as the author of this story has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author, or a license permitting restricted copying.