's 2018 Horror Write-off:

A New Driver

Submitted by Mitchell Bennink (email)

You’re probably wondering just who the hell I am and why I’m telling you this. Well, the truth is complicated, and perhaps unbelievable.  But you might as well listen anyway.  My name isn’t important, not anymore. But there was a time, a mere few weeks ago, when I was like you, just sitting on my ass at home watching T.V.  Just sitting back and flipping channels of people with infinitely more interesting lives than mine. I had just gotten out of college, but I was still lacking a drive in life. Sometimes I’d  get together with buddies or stop by to help my parents, but for the most part it was just me and Mr. Boob Tube.  That particular night, I couldn’t find anything I wanted to watch for very long. Whether it was news of exploding laptops, or documentaries about wild animals in the sewers, or even a nice little cartoon about a cat and a goldfish hanging out with ghosts on Halloween, my attention span was too short to rest on any one thing.  But one news story did stick with me.

Another missing persons case.  Guys’ name  was Anthony Brooks, and I knew him. He worked at the Starbright convenience store a few blocks from here, and was one of my friends. More accurately, he was to Aadam and Saafia, the owner’s kids.  I had known the two from my college years. Aadam worked with me on my thesis on mental health.  Grade probably wouldn’t be as high if not for him.  Saafia was a dedicated social worker. Besides partaking in several programs designed to improve life for the homeless and refugees, she also introduced me to Mr.  Hamad, and got me a short stint at her dad’s store.

Not an amazing gig, but pretty passable.  And what’s more, Anthony wasn’t the only case from that store.  Last year, another employee took a strange absence.  His name was Anton Barsell, and I don’t think he liked me that much.  Whenever I set foot in that place, whether to help with the shipments, or just say hi to the staff, he’d look at me a little funny.  I noticed it a lot when I was talking to Saafia, so he probably had a thing for her.   Whatever his true feelings, he almost always avoided talking to me and according to Saafia, he was a bit of an introvert.  One day he just never showed up.  Within a month, he was reported missing.  The Hamads were real torn up, and I wanted to feel that way too, but it’s hard when a guy’s been treating you like you don’t exist the whole time you knew him.

Anyway, first him, then this.  Christ, that must feel awful.  But there was at least something I could do to help them.  The store was only a few blocks from my building, down on Icarus Avenue.   Better time spent with them than on this couch, for one thing.  A few minutes later, I had ridden the elevator down to the lobby, and was checking out to pay Starbright a visit.  And wouldn’t you have it, the sky was grey and drizzling a little. Still, had to walk faster to outrun the downpour.   

As I powerwalked down Mcgill street, I couldn’t help but notice the shift in temperature. Oh, maybe it was just my general mood, but I think I had good reason now. I kept going and turned onto Carpenter Avenue. Still had that feeling of being followed.  There weren’t that many people around…

I whipped around, seeking to relieve my uneasiness. No, no one there.  At least none on my side of the street. That’s when the shadow fell across me.

It lingered for only a few seconds, but I did get a good impression in that short time. It could’ve been a bird, but it had a huge wingspan and was getting too close for comfort.  It only made me walk faster, desperate to avoid its lingering gaze, until I turned onto Icarus Avenue.

The Starbright convenience is a nice little place. Nothing special, really, but still a good place of business. Wedged between a bank and a beer store, it was just where you(or maybe just me) went to get a treat and shoot the breeze.  I’m gonna miss it.

That feeling was closing in as I approached the curb. Quickening my pace, I hurried inside, and Aadam greeted me at the counter. 

I had trouble finding words at first, so I just paced a bit. Aadam asked if I wanted something, and I finally spoke up. “I’m sorry about Anthony.” He frowned, but he understood.  “I try not to bring that up. Dad’s going crazy about it as it is.”

I ask where Saafia is. He replied mirthlessly, “She’s in back, arranging the new shipments.”   Speak of the devil, there she was. “You’d better buy something. We’re not here to gossip.”  It was a slow day, and that wasn’t Saafia’s regular attitude. But I knew not to say anything.  “By the way,”  I said, “Where’s your dad?”

Saafia was clearly not in the mood for a talk, but she replied, “We told him to take time off. Right now, he’s probably praying at the mosque.”  I was sad, but also a little proud of these two. They were powering through the hardest parts, even as their business was taking a dive from the rumors.

I wished I could offer more to help, but I didn’t know what else to say, and started to wish them well. That’s when I saw it. The shadow was looming in the corner of my eye, just within the front window frame. I stared for way longer than it really was. 

Aadam woke me from the little trance. “You okay? Look, this has been hard, but  we’re all strong.”  “Yeah…I just-,” The shape had faded, but it wasn’t gone.   “Something’s  got me on edge.”   Saafia  gave me a look. “Just don’t tell me you’re following those stupid rumors, we get enough of that crap from  every Fox news watching asshole who comes down…the..block.” 

Sure enough, we all saw it. Across the rain beaten parking lot, the figure stood on the curb. We couldn’t make out enough features,  for the shape of a wide brimmed hat, and flowing overcoat.  “Uh…how long has that guy been there?” Aadam’s generally an easy going guy , but I could tell he was starting to get creeped out.  “Dunno, but Dad doesn’t like loiterers. I’ll go see what he wants.”  Saafia quickly pulled on her coat.  Aadam and I couldn’t just be idle, so we  hurried after her. 

As we trekked across the deserted lot, the stranger’s features began to clear up.  “Features” is too strong a word. The “raincoat” was wrapped to cover everything, like a bat with folded wings, even the face beneath the brim of the hat. It was like a bundle of clothes that started walking.

“Hey, sir,” Saafia called out, “May we help you?” Not one word or movement. Beating back the rain, we headed up to meet the strange visitor.  Their garb was all the same discolored green.  It only creeped me out more.  

Saafia was always brave. “Hey, did  you hear me? You shouldn’t be out here. Now-,”  She never finished. With abrupt swiftness, the thing hopped from the curb, and shot past Saafia toward me. Instinctively, I ducked out of the way, the thing’s “hand” shooting within widths of my face.  It quickly swerved for another attack. Before Aadam could move, another arm swatted him back, nearly knocking him to the pavement.  It was all too fast for this kind of weather.

Saafia was on the thing in seconds. With a furious yell, she tackled the figure like a quarterback, but it was fast. Saafia was knocked to the ground, and Aadam took the time to attack, me following suit.  Though you couldn’t make out  too much in the rain, I could feel the thing’s palm slam into my shoulder, smooth, cool and wet, yet with an iron grip.   Aadam was able to evade the other blow, and was clawing to free me from it’s grasp.  Meanwhile, Saafia rose for a few more punches and kicks. The thing wasn’t even paying mind.  That’s when I realized something.  

The figure, whatever it was, wanted me.  And if only for a brief moment, I saw beneath the hat and collar.  Two opague orbs in darkness, shining with more emotion than possible.  Aadam stood back with a look of confusion and fear.  By now, Saafia was also starting to realize this was no mugger.  The stranger ‘s hand kept a firm hold, creeping closer to my neck. Then, still staring with those horrible orbs, glowing with recognition, the collar-no, a mouth started to unfold. It was like watching a flower bloom in slow motion. The entire attire was unfolding, spreading into its true shape.  I shut my eyes, but I could still hear the sickened cries of my friends.

When I dared to open my eyes, I was being held by something new, like some kind of cephalopod that unfolded into a huge winged thing with these weird tendrils emerging to feel its prey, by now gripping me with both arms. The fake hat had melted into something like a Cobra’s hood. And still those eyes, full of inhuman anger.  The Hamads were recovering from the initial shock , just had to fight this monster no matter what to save me. “Stay back!” I yelled out before anyone could move.  Couldn’t let this thing get them.  The unreal wings began to spread even wider. Then there was an awful crack, and the thing had bounded into the air with me as its catch.  I could still make out Aadam and Saafia as we flew into the storm, futilely screaming my name.  And I began to break down. I sobbed even as the rain blended with my tears. I wailed even as the thunder drowned out the sound. I despaired and regretted over every stupid mistake I made in life, as I felt the unsympathetic feelers pierce my skin and break me down.  I was terrified all the way, even as I began to understand why this was happening.

And now here we are. It took some adjusting, but everything makes sense to me. Well, almost everything.  See, this thing…this body, can’t function on its own. It consumes living things to keep it powered and running. But after a certain few people, it lets itself be guided by the last victim.  Ol’ Anton, he was the previous driver. I was shown everything as it broke me down that night. Anton had a major chip on his shoulder.  He hated his parents, was used by his friends, and even at Starbright he didn’t feel appreciated.  All he wanted was the confidence to confess his feelings to Saafia, but he had such low self esteem, and he could tell she wasn’t interested.  It didn’t help with me or Anthony around. 

So one day this thing surprised him in his backyard-and suddenly it was going for all the people in his life, starting with his parents, his “friends” and then it made its way to Starbright. That’s what  I recognized in those orbs.  Long repressed anger.  But I don’t hold it against Anton. After all, the machine only did what he could  never bare to do. And I don’t for you either.  Oh,I was angry to find a brick you tossed through the store window during my time there. I was also angry when you and your buddies began spreading rumors about the Hamads being terrorists.  But I didn’t want this to happen, I’m not in control.  It just uses me to pick out food. 

Good thing is, it’s mostly painless, even if it takes a few minutes to digest completely. And now, as the absorption is almost complete, I know your friends’ faces. They should be out any minute to check on you when you stepped out for a smoke.  

I wish I could check up on Aadam and Saafia, but they may feel a little safer in this neighborhood soon. I just hope the next driver doesn’t have too many enemies.