Former police officer and journalist Paul Finch has been published widely in the British and North American anthology and independent press markets. He has received numerous honorable mentions in Ellen Datlow's Year's Best Horror publication and his new collection from Ash Tree, After Shocks, has just won a British Fantasy Award. Paul also writes for The Bill TV series and has sold a full-blown script to Talisman Films (who produced Rob Roy). He has a new novella out now from Telos called Cape Wrath, and resides in Lancashire, England, with his wife Cathy and their two children.
The joy-riders were careering happily along the country road when the low-flying aircraft screamed past overhead.
The force shook the stolen Capri, and Gorty gaped in disbelief as the glowing object rocketed away over the fields, swerving wildly from side to side, but arrowing steadily down and finally impacting in a distant copse of trees with a detonation like a volcanic eruption.
The Capri shrieked to a halt by the grassy kerb and the two youths leaped out, running to the farm-gate. A secondary explosion lit up the dusk, almost blinding them. It roared like thunder and tossed up a mountain of mud and burning timber, fragments raining down for miles in all directions.
It seemed to take minutes for the reverberations to die away. The autumn air was suddenly thick with acrid smoke, and all over the hillside patches of grass were ablaze with an odd yellow-green flame. The wood had virtually vanished.
'Ohhhh shit!' breathed Gorty, after a second. He hurriedly took the wrap from his jeans pocket and popped another couple of pills. 'Ohhhh man! You see that! A meteor. I'm telling you...a meteor!'
'Bollocks a meteor,' said Angus, vaulting over the farm-gate and venturing into the field. 'That was a plane.'
Gorty joined him. 'What? You mean like...with people in it?'
Angus pushed the baseball cap back on his oily thatch of hair. 'What other kinds of planes they got, dickhead?'
They stood in silence, gazing over the field. The same thought seemed to occur to both of them at once. About that film where a down-and-out guy rescued some people from a crashed jet and became a national hero. A rich national hero.
Their eyes met. They nodded. Then they began to run, haring across the field. Angus, the stronger and fitter of the two, took the lead, his bright orange trainers shimmering back and forth through the mud and gloom.
They found the wood devastated, practically every trunk smashed or bodily uprooted; most of them singed to charcoal and heaped on top of each other. The ground was a disembowelled morass, covered in smoking craters. The car-thieves coughed and wafted their arms in front of them as they made their way in. The emerald firelight flickered eerily over them.
Then Gorty squawked and jumped backwards - a sudden outburst which spooked Angus. 'You dipstick!' he snapped.
'It was a snake!' the other protested. 'Slithered right past me. Into the field!'
'So bloody what!' said Angus, pressing on. 'Probably had its home wrecked. Never seen a grass snake before?'
Gorty was nervously scanning the ground however. 'It was all black...and greasy-like. Moved quick too.'
'Never mind that,' his mate suddenly said. 'Just look at this!'
The smoke had opened in front of them, like curtains, to reveal the pulverised remnants of the aircraft - a gigantic hunk of blackened scrap-metal, still glowing around its edges, but mashed and scrunched and twisted beyond recognition, and belching out searing fumes. It was half-buried in the ground, trees and branches littered all over it, all either smouldering or burning.
The two lads could only gaze in disbelief. 'No-one could've survived in that,' said Gorty after a moment.
'Hardly surprising,' Angus replied. 'Must've been doing five-thousand miles an hour when it hit. Easy.'
'What kind of plane does that?' asked the other, after a moment.
Angus shook his head. He didn't know much about aeroplanes as it was, but there was nothing at all he recognised here. Curved, razor-edged fins were visible - one still attached, another embedded in a tree-trunk. There was no trace of any wings, but masses of tentacle-thick cables dangled like ripped innards through the many rents in the body-work, most still sparking and jumping.
'Don't reckon it's one of them UFOs, do you?' Gorty suddenly wondered, the eyes wide in his sooty face.
Angus shrugged...then turned sharply. Far in the distance, he could hear the wail of approaching sirens. 'Quick!' he hissed, charging back out into the field. 'Coppers! If they find that knocker, we've had it!'
Minutes later, they were back in the Ford Capri, panting for breath but gibbering with laughter. 'Let's see if they bother coming after us now!' crowed Gorty, as Angus hot-wired the engine again and jammed his foot down.
The Capri leaped away from the kerb just as the first police car came screeching around the bend in the road. By the cacophony of sirens behind it, and myriad of blue lights flashing through the hedgerows, a whole army of emergency vehicles was in immediate support. If the officers even noticed the stolen Capri though, now roaring away up the country lane, a trail of dust behind it, they didn't react.
Gorty looked in the rear-view mirror and saw their silhouettes clambering over the farm-gate. 'Pity there wasn't no-one there to save,' he said.
He popped another pill, then gave one to Angus, who slammed it into his mouth with a chuckle. 'Don't matter. The more dead the better - keep 'em busy for ages, that. Let's have some fun!' He pulled a handbrake-turn at the next sharp bend, then hit a stretch of open road, flooring the accelerator.
Gorty whooped drunkenly as the car bounced over a pot-hole, then landed hard and with a squeal of blistered tyres, tore off into the night. Trees and hedgerows flickered past them. The benighted countryside was soon an obsidian blur.
'Ohhhh man!' screamed Gorty, as the speedometer rode steadily up through the ninety-plus mark. 'This is living!'
Angus began to howl like a wolf. They'd already had some fun in this particular motor, but it was an old model and up until now he hadn't been able to get it past eighty. Not far ahead, framed in a blaze of sodium street-lights, a crossroads came hurtling towards them.
Angus gave a warning 'Wooooooo!' then hit the brakes hard.
But nothing happened!
And the engine was still revving, apparently at maximum velocity...even though Angus had taken his foot clean off the gas!
At first the young hoodlum thought it was the drugs in his system playing up. He pedalled the brake wildly, but still the car surged on, the engine grinding. Gorty didn't notice and continued to laugh crazily.
They flew over the crossroads at terrifying speed, plunging down an unlit lane. Angus was still slamming his foot down on the brake as hard as he could, and eyeing the speedometer with incredulity. The needle was now touching one-ten! 'What the hell...what the bloody hell...'
The headlights picked out a sharp bend ahead, and he had to drag the steering-wheel over to get round it. The car never even slowed however, its tyres shrieking. Gorty's head was thrown hard against the passenger window, spider-webbing it with cracks and knocking him out of his reverie. He cried out sharply at the pain.
'I can't...I can't control it...' jabbered Angus. 'Oh Christ, what the hell's wrong with it...'
They hit another open stretch and accelerated again. The world now zipped past invisibly. All that existed was the twisting, turning strip of black-top in front. And they were eating it up.
'Slow down!' Gorty began to shout, trying to grab the wheel, but Angus fought him off.
'I'm trying to, you prat! Look...I'm not even driving it!'
Gorty gazed in disbelief at the bright orange feet, both frantically pumping the brake. 'It's doing it, itself!' Angus screamed, his voice now hysterical.
He yanked the handbrake on, but it did nothing, and now another wide curve in the road was approaching, the zig-zag black-and-white sign sweeping towards them.
Gorty buried his head in his hands, while Angus wrenched the wheel over again. The Capri took the bend practically on two wheels, its motor howling. Beyond that, a straight road led down to a major dual carriageway. The car literally bulleted out onto it, sending other vehicles spinning out of its way. Smoke was now spilling from the engine, and the needle resting on one-forty, the Capri's maximum. Still it made no difference. Street-lights and cars whistled backwards past them.
The knuckles in Angus's hands gleamed white as he clenched the wheel. He could no longer speak. His eyes were starting from his face, his teeth chattering. Gorty felt himself pressed back into the seat with G-force, his stomach roiling. For a mindless second he wondered if he could possibly get out...if he could just open the door and flop onto the hard-shoulder. If he would survive.
Near paralysis held him where he was though. The car was now going faster than it had ever been designed to. One-seventy at least! Maybe more! The frame was shaking violently around them, lurching from side to side on its suspension. The smoke and stench of burning rubber was almost intolerable.
Gorty remembered the strange craft racing out of control at over a thousand miles an hour. In a broken, whimpering voice, he began to pray.
Behind them, other vehicles were careering back and forth all over the road, and a police traffic patrol was coming up in hot pursuit, sirens blaring, but still a good way behind.
Inevitably...they never even saw the contra-flow until they were ploughing through it. Not that they would have been able to do anything about it anyway. Gorty tried to climb into the back seat, but got stuck half-way. Angus simply clasped his hands to his face. Through his crooked fingers, he had one fleeting glimpse of workmen in fluorescent slickers racing out of the way, a fountain of traffic cones going up and up in front of his fender...then girders, concrete mixers, bulldozers, the massive granite buttress of a half-built bridge looming right at them! Angus screamed...
By the time the traffic patrol pulled up beside the scattered wreckage, a tribe of workmen were standing about in it, talking together in hushed disbelief.
As the cop climbed out, the foreman came up to him, face pale under his bright yellow helmet. Together, they picked their way for yards through smouldering debris, towards the car's main chassis. It was flattened like a sardine tin and partly buried in the buttress of the bridge, which had cracked all the way through, and now hung at a deadly angle.
As they peered in, swatting at the foul smoke, neither of them noticed the black, serpentine shape worm its way out underneath the smashed hulk. For a second it lay in a coil on the scorched tarmac, palpitating, spotted with moisture - almost like sweat. Then it slithered away.
The only thing instantly identifiable on either of the two mangled corpses inside the car meanwhile, was a pair of bright orange training shoes - dangling off two charred and partially severed feet.
The traffic cop paled and took off his hat. 'Jesus...I know that lad,' he breathed. 'From the Brooker Estate, back in town. That explains everything.' He shook his head wearily and mopped sweat from his brow. 'It'll be the usual thing. Whizz. You know...Speed. They've no self-control. They're just addicted to it.'
A few feet away, the glistening black snake-thing was rippling excitedly through the grass on the hard-shoulder. Not far ahead of it, a twenty-ton HGV sat chugging in the moonlight...
(C) Paul Finch 2002
© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.