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Drive Through
About the Author: Keith Brooke is the author of fourteen novels, seven collections, and close to a hundred short stories; his most recent novel alt.human (published in the US as Harmony) was shortlisted for the Philip K Dick Award and his story "War 3.01" was shortlisted for the Seiun Award. Writing teen fiction as Nick Gifford, he has been described by the Sunday Express as 'The king of children's horror'. His crime fiction has been published widely in anthologies and magazines around the world.

Carrie had forgotten the olives.

That was her last normal, everyday thought, before …

She saw the guy in her peripheral vision as she glanced down at her shopping bag, her attention drawn by his sudden appearance, and the way he half-stumbled as he came to a halt before her in the supermarket parking bay.

He was tall, with shaggy brown hair and an unkempt beard. Big glasses with fashionably thick frames. Dark eyes that met hers and then danced from side to side.

Nervous. Very nervous.

Something in his look was both off-putting and compelling—the stranger in need who you really don’t want to help.

She thought then that he might be some kind of salesman, or a religious crank out to sell her his particular brand of god.

“I …” Hesitating, out of breath.

Not nervous, but scared.

“Just stay with me, okay?” he said. “It’ll be safe that way.”

Carrie dithered, uncertain, unsure what to do or how to respond. A part of her didn’t want to get drawn in and was prepared to simply turn away, keep walking across the supermarket car park back to the safety of her car. This wasn’t her problem, this man, with whatever issues he had. Whatever that need in his eyes was all about.

But an equal part of her was all too conscious of the man’s anxiety, his fear.

She couldn’t just turn away.

She swallowed. Looked down into the open top of her bag again. She’d forgotten the olives.

And when she looked up again he was … gone.

Simply vanished.

Not there.

It took her a second or two to rewind events in her mind, play forward again, and piece together what had actually happened.

She’d glanced away from the man, down into her bag. Salad Niçoise without the olives simply wasn’t Niçoise. Using the pause to make a quick mental calculation of how far she had to walk to get away from this strange encounter. She’d parked on the far side of the car park, away from the shop so she would get a few more steps in, feed her Fitbit. Every little bit helps, except when you want to avoid an awkward encounter.

An engine revved nearby, followed by a slight screech of rubber.

A car. A dark saloon, cutting across the empty parking slots.

A blur of motion, a heavy thudding sound.

The car … Hitting the man who had approached Carrie moments before. Flipping him up onto the bonnet, the windscreen, and then his body rolling over the roof.

It had all happened so fast. All in that instant when Carrie had looked down, away, so that it really was as if the man had vanished in the blink of an eye.

Except that Carrie had seen it all—peripheral vision and hindsight piecing the fragments together.

The car screeched to a halt a short distance away and the man kept rolling, tumbling off one side of the car’s roof and down onto the tarmac with a meaty thud. The way his body had rolled and now his limbs came to lie was unnatural, his skeleton no longer giving his body structure.

What could the driver have been thinking? Driving like that in a damned car park! How fast had he been going?

Not he. She. A young woman, no more than mid-twenties. Features pale, eyes wide in shock. Staring at the crumpled body, and then across at Carrie.

The driver opened her mouth as if to say something, but then glanced into her rearview mirror, crunched the car into gear, and put her foot down on the accelerator. Wheels spun, squealed, smoke billowed, and then the car lurched forward.

Seconds later, she was gone. Out of the car park, leaving behind a dark smear of tyre marks and the crumpled body of the man who had approached Carrie less than a minute before.

The police had cleared one corner of the supermarket coffee shop. Carrie sat with a uniformed officer and a large untouched Americano at a table by the big window. From her seat she could see across the car park to the scene of the accident. The area was now cordoned off with blue and white incident tape, most of the cars removed so that the remaining few looked forlorn, abandoned.

This story appears in our JAN 2022 Issue
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Reader Discussion

Well crafted. I read it twice to locate the little hints along the way that I'd missed or wondered about on the first reading.
By David Arbogast

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