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The Alternative Route (standard:Ghost stories, 753 words)
Author: Ian HobsonAdded: Jan 08 2005Views/Reads: 2522/0Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
Another competition that I didn't win: A story in no more than 750 words, to begin with the words 'It started off as nothing more than a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive'.
 



The Alternative Route 

©2004 Ian Hobson 

It started off as nothing more than a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive. 
At least that was the plan. The traffic on the main road had been 
pretty heavy and, despite the sunshine, there was a lot of spray from 
the standing water left by the recent heavy rains.  But Jim knew the 
alternative route: Left at the garage and up the hill, to take the back 
way around the town.  Cut down through the gully and cross the river at 
the old iron bridge.  Then right at the farm and over the cattle grid, 
and head up onto the moors. 

But he'd only gone a couple of miles, when a sudden loud clang, followed
by an even louder scraping noise, announced that his car's exhaust had 
all but fallen off.  Bugger!  Surely, it could only be eighteen months 
since he'd had the whole of the exhaust system replaced. 

He pulled over to the side of the road and switched off the engine and
clambered out.  Fortunately the gully road, though narrow for most of 
its length, was wide enough, where he had stopped, for any other 
motorists to pass.  Though there were none around at the moment. 

Jim walked to the rear of the car and squatted down, leaning on his
fingertips to avoid kneeling on the wet road, as he looked underneath.  
To his surprise, the exhaust seemed to be intact.  He tapped it hard 
with the knuckle of his right hand, as though knocking on a door.  But 
the exhaust and its rubber mounts seemed to be fine.  Sound as a bell.  
Didn't even look rusty. 

But what had made that noise?  As Jim walked back towards the
driver's-side door he looked up at the, now cloudless, sky.  Aircraft 
perhaps?  Sonic boom?  Thunder?  No, there had been plenty of thunder a 
little earlier in the day; but it hadn't been that sort of noise.  He 
could have sworn it was the exhaust. 

He climbed back into the car, started the engine, looked in his
rear-view mirror and almost jumped out of his skin as he saw the 
reflected face  the strangely familiar face - of a man sitting in the 
rear of the car.  Jim let out an involuntary cry of shear fright, and 
swung around in his seat, only to find that there was no one there.  
Bloody Norah!  He turned back to look in the mirror again.  Nothing.  
Nothing at all.  Just the road and the hedgerow down either side.  He 
scratched his head, baffled.  He'd only had the one glass of red wine 
at lunchtime.  He was, as far as he knew, in perfect health for a man 
of fifty-eight.  Yet here he was imagining noises, and seeing the face 
of his long dead father. 

He released the handbrake, engaged first gear and set off downhill,
listening carefully and, almost every second, glancing into the 
rear-view mirror.  Fortunately there were no more scraping noises.  And 
no more... what?  Hallucinations?  Apparitions?  He tried to force the 
image from his mind.  In the distance he could see the moors and below, 
through a gap in the trees, he glimpsed the river that, in a minute or 
two, he'd be crossing. 

As he neared the end of the gully road, he slowed for the S-bend and,
still going downhill, drove on toward the river and the bridge, now 
visible about a quarter of a mile away.  But it was then that the 
unthinkable happened: A huge wall of water came downstream at 
incredible speed and covered the bridge completely. 

Jim stopped the car and got out to watch, his earlier experiences
forgotten.  He'd never seen such a thing.  His eyes followed the tidal 
wave as it travelled downstream.  It had ripped whole trees from the 
riverbank.  He could see them being tossed like matchwood in the muddy 
torrent.  And only when the worst of it had passed, and the waters 
subsided, did he look back to where he expected to see the bridge.  But 
most of it was gone.  Just a single buttress remained.  He stood for a 
moment, and then the thought struck him: It was lucky he'd stopped when 
he did.  If he'd been on that bridge when...  Now, that really was 
unthinkable. 

Still stunned, he climbed back into his car and tuned in to the local
radio.  If he'd looked into his rear-view mirror, he might have seen 
the face of his father again, and seen his smile before he faded away. 


   


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