Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Hitchhiker

It was my 23rd birthday and, having missed them for a while, I decided to spend the day with my parents. We’d just had a fantastic day out in Shaldon. Spent a while on the beach, went to a museum, sat in quaint little cafes, got some obligatory rock. I sat in the back of the car, enjoying that feeling of tired contentment you get when you’ve just had a really good day. But now the rain was really heavy, and it made it hard to see out of the windows. The darkness didn’t help. Almost dozing off, I listened to my parents chatting in the front of the car.

“As soon as I brought out the needle, he passed out. I thought of doing the filling right there and then and save him the pain, and the anaesthetic too, but if I got caught I’d be in hell of a lot of trouble..”

I drifted in and out. My Dad is a dentist. He and Mum are so different. Mum works part-time as an estate agent, and she’s always been tougher than my Dad. Dad is kind of insecure. I think it’s because most people he sees on a daily basis are scared of him. Burden of being a dentist, I suppose. Even though he’s soft. When I was little it was always Mum who did the discipline. Dad would let me do anything and would do anything for anyone. Mum was a bit more stern.

They’ve both changed, though. Nowadays, they’re more withdrawn. It happened thirteen years ago, when my brother Tom died. They’ve never really recovered from that. My life has never been the same since.

“Hey, look at that.” Dad said, bringing our attention to a dark figure, huddled over and walking on the side of the road. I jumped out of my trance and looked. A man was trudging along, his coat pulled tight to protect himself from the rain. Suddenly, his hand shot out, thumb facing upwards. The universal sign of the hitchhiker. He wanted a lift.

“We should stop.” Said Dad.

“We should not!” said Mum.

“It’s horrible weather out there, he’ll catch his death of cold. And he’s miles from anywhere. Let’s pick him up.”

“But Harry…” began my Mother, anxiously.

She was right. Letting strangers into your car is a bad idea generally, but particularly so when you’re ten miles away from an asylum for the criminally insane. Which we were. Everyone knew about Fairfields. Fairfield’s Maximum Security Prison for the Criminally Insane, to be more exact. It’s a big ugly building with metal gates ten metres high with spikes along the top and gates that open electronically. And now we’d stumbled across a lone man in the middle of nowhere walking alone.

That’s the point I’m trying to make. When you’re ten miles away from a loony bin, you don’t stop to pick up someone you’ve never met. I began to add my own reservations, but Dad pulled up next to the man. Slowing the car to a stop, he waved him to get inside. He’s a good bloke, my Dad. Though sometimes he can be too good. What if he was an escaped loony? What if he’d cut the throat of the prison guard and slipped through the gates? The figure slumped towards the car.

I had a really bad feeling about him. I don’t know why but he just made dread form in the pit of my stomach. The man walked towards the car, pulled open the door, and slumped onto the seat next to me.

My god, I thought. It’s Professor Snape. He had greasy skin, greasy long black hair, and a hooked nose to boot. Only this guy had a huge scar running down his face. Going from the top of his forehead, over his eye, down to his chin, it seemed to push his eye out of place, giving him a mad look. He smelled like damp clothes. Which made sense, I suppose. But there was a smell I couldn’t place, too, something..metallic. He wore a long brown trenchcoat, grimy trousers, and shoes that had seen better days. His skin was pale, as if he hadn’t been outside in a while.

Noticing me staring at him, he turned to me. I felt a chill run down my spine the second his gaze met mine. Silently, his mouth moved. His lips formed the words “You’re dead.”

Suddenly, the car veered to the right. The man’s hand shot out to steady himself. When his hand grasped the seat, his arm extended briefly from his sleeve.

Blood!

I gasped. Whose blood was that? His, or someone else’s? He pulled his hand away. He knew I’d seen it. Maybe he wanted me to.

“Damn foxes!” exclaimed my father. “They want to get run over, I swear. So, where are you headed?” he said, addressing the hitchhiker, while I tried to process what had just happened.

“Totnes.” His voice was rough and low.

“What’s your name?”

“Rellik. Ian Rellik.”

“What were you doing out in that rain, coulda caught your death of cold out there!”

“My car broke down.” He intoned.

“That’s a shame.” Said my Dad, merrily trying to make conversation. “Are you going anywhere nice?”

The man paused. Eventually, he said “Visiting my family.”

I knew he was lying. Why would be pause right before replying? Was he making it up, trying to think of what to say?

I shuffled further over to my side, away from him.

“Oh how nice, visiting the parents? Do you have any kids?”

“No.” was the simple reply.

I think my Dad sensed that he wasn’t going to be having a lengthy conversation anytime soon because he didn’t ask anything else. Shuffling further away, I prayed that we’d get this man to his destination before he did anything. Trying to forget where I was, I idly wrote on the window the first word in my mind.

R E L L I K

There was a flash of lightning outside. Jumping, I anticipated the thunder. As I did so, I caught glance of myself in the mirror. I looked white as a sheet. I would have gotten whiter if it were possible, when I saw the words I’d written reflected also.

K I L L E R

The thunder came. The man turned his attention back to me. I met his gaze, determined to look confident. He silently mouthed some words again. “I’m going to kill you.” Then he turned his attention downwards, and reached inside his coat.

Oh god. He could have anything in there. He could have a knife or a gun or worse! And I would be his first victim. He wouldn’t attack Dad, or the car would veer out of control. He couldn’t attack Mum because he couldn’t reach her. I would be his first victim. Then he would kill Mum, then he would kill Dad, then maybe someone else. I had to do something.

Then I remembered that I was sitting behind my mother for a reason. What was it that she had said this morning…

“Don’t sit on the driver’s side, the catch on the door is broken. It’s dangerous.”

I noticed that he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. I was. Realising this, I knew what I had to do. The man’s hand closed on something inside his coat. I turned to face him and braced my back against the door. As he withdrew the knife, I kicked with all my might.

I caught him square in the chest and he smacked into the door. The catch gave way and he tumbled out the car. An industrial lorry blared past in the other direction. Ian Rellik went straight under the front wheels. He exploded in a fountain of blood.

Mum screamed and Dad hit the brakes. The lorry ground to a halt. Suddenly everything was silent except for the rain hammering on the roof.

Dad twisted round to look at me. “What…” he began. I quickly explained. I explained about the blood on his arm. The lies he had told. The blood on his arm. The knife in his coat. The lunatic asylum.

Mum was in total shock. Dad laid his hand on my arm. “It’s alright.” He said. “Wait here.” He got out of the car. I watched him talking with the lorry driver. There wsa no sign of the killer. He must have been fairly spread out across the road. I felt horrible about what I’d done, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I had saved the life of my parents, myself, and whoever else that man would have gone after. He gave me no choice.

“He says he’s going to call the police.” Dad announced, getting back in the car.

“Did you tell him what happened?” I enquired.

“Yes. He knows you did the right thing.”

I sat back. My father started the engine, and we drove another ten miles until we came to a building with ten-metre high walls with spikes along the top. We stopped at a pair of metal gates with a speaker at the front. My Dad leaned out of the window and said something.

I knew where we were. We had come to Fairfield’s. Fairfield’s Maximum Security Prison for the Criminally Insane.

We had to tell them, I knew. The lorry driver had agreed. We had to tell them that Ian Rellik had escaped and that we had killed him. In self defence. They needed to know. I asked my father if that was why we’d come here.

“Yes. That’s why we’re here.”

We drove to a big Victorian house with red bricks and bars on the windows. Had he managed to somehow remove the bars and get out of one of these windows? I checked for evidence of an escape. I could see why the institution had gotten it’s name. It was surrounded by vast fields spreading for some distance under the high-voltage searchlights. Before we had even stopped, a bald man with a white beard in a white suit came out of the building.“Wait here.” Said Dad, getting out of the car. I watched the two of them talking but this time I managed to hear a little of what they said.

Dad did most of the talking. “You were wrong, Dr Samson, you were wrong, we never should have taken her…”

“None of us could have know. She was doing so well, we thou -”

“She was fine in Shaldon! She was fine! She seemed normal all day and then..then..this!”

“I don’t know what to say to you Mr Taylor. I don’t know what to say.”

“Never again, that’s what. Never again!”

The two men came over to the car. “We’re going in with Doctor Samson.” Said Dad.

“All right.” I replied.

Mum didn’t look at me as I got up. She didn’t even say goodbye. That made me sad.

Doctor Samson put his hand on my shoulder. “Come inside. We need to talk about what’s happened.”

“All right.”

Later on they told me that the hitchhiker’s name was Ian Renwick and that I’d misheard him. Apparently Mr Renwick was a gardener who has been working on an isolated building and his car had broken down and so he started walking home. They told me that it was mud I’d seen on his arm, not blood. He got his scar from falling onto a spade. And when they scraped him off the tarmac he was holding not a knife but a cigarette case.

That was what they told me but I don’t believe any of it. After all, they told me lots of lies after my brother Tom fell under that train. They even wanted me to believe that I’d pushed him! Nobody ever understood.

So here I am, back in my room, staring at the fields through a barred window. Same old view. I had such a nice day in Shaldon. I just hope I won’t have to wait another thirteen years before they take me out again.

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