Authors: Robert T. Jeschonek
Robert T. Jeschonek
More Horror Tales
by Robert T. Jeschonek
â a novel
Diary of a Maggot
Fear of Rain
As soon as the two-lane road opened up into four lanes, Walter Haskell swung his mammoth Dodge SUV out from behind the Honda compact he'd been chasing and jammed the accelerator to the floor.
“All right, you son of a bitch,” said Walter as the Dodge bolted ahead of the Honda. “See how
Heart pounding, Walter pitched the SUV back into the right lane in front of the Honda and immediately slowed down. The Dodge dropped from seventy miles an hour to sixty, then fifty...and kept slowing.
When the Dodge hit forty-five, the hotheaded ballcap-wearing kid at the wheel of the Honda tried to dart into the left lane and get past Walter...but Walter wouldn't let him. Every time the kid slipped left, Walter swerved in front of him, cutting off his escape. When the kid veered right, Walter followed and intercepted him there, too.
In his rear-view mirror, Walter could see the pissed-off jerk screaming and cursing and making obscene gestures. It made Walter feel like a trillion bucks.
Justice was served...Walter's version of it, anyway. He'd seen the kid tormenting an elderly couple in an Oldsmobile, first tailgating them, then passing on the double yellow and trapping them in a snail's pace crawl for five miles or so. The couple had finally pulled over, defeated, and the kid had roared away into the night, penalty-free because there hadn't been a cop in sight.
But he hadn't counted on Walter. Walter had followed at a distance, watching everything...and Walter was a guy who took road rage personally, even when it wasn't directed at him. Especially then.
Walter made it his business to balance the scales for victims of hotheads like this one.
“There, asshole,” he said, punching the Dodge left as the kid made another attempt to pass. “That's what you get. Let's see how
like a nice, slow ride for the next ten miles or so.”
Mission accomplished. Another road rager put in his place, thanks to the self-appointed guardian of the highway.
The kid charged left, then right again. Walter blocked his every move, bolting the Dodge from side to side with deft flicks of the customized joystick that served as his combination steering and shifting apparatus.
The reason for the joystick â his useless left arm â hung at his side, strapped to the plastic splint he'd worn ever since the accident.
It had happened on the same stretch of road he now drove, a state route between Dayton and Troy, Ohio. It had happened with him at the wheel (with two good arms then) and his wife in the passenger seat, sound asleep.
It had happened one year ago today.
Walter and Sue were on their way back to Troy after a night out in Dayton, celebrating their twentieth anniversary. Sinatra was in the CD player, crooning away as Walter guided the Mercedes through the warm July darkness.
As Sue slept, Walter mused about time and how fast it was passing him by. Though not unhappy, exactly, he felt a longing for something more. Once, his whole life had been laid out before him, flashing with magic and potential; now, he felt like walls were closing in around him, narrowing down his choices, trapping him in a single, limited space.
He was comfortable, and occasionally delighted, but never fulfilled. Something was missing. He felt as if he had been meant to do something important, but had never quite managed to figure out what it was.
And time was running out.
It was just as he was thinking these thoughts that the souped-up Nissan came barreling up alongside him.
The silver Nissan was tricked out street-racing style and had a filigree of flames painted along its side. It swept up out of nowhere, leaping into the left lane...and slowing down to pace Walter's Mercedes.
At first, Walter couldn't figure out why the Nissan was holding position beside him instead of swooping past. Then, in his rearview mirror, he spotted a set of headlights cruising up from behind him.
As soon as the headlights surged to within a car-length of the Mercedes, they peeled left, jolting over behind the Nissan. Then, they were back, flashing
bright-dim bright-dim in the rearview, accompanied by the squawking of a horn.
Walter held steady at seventy mph, but he gripped the wheel tighter. As the lights darted left and back again, bright-dim bright-dim, he understood the situation.
The Nissan was boxing in the driver at the rear, matching speed with Walter to keep the third vehicle from passing. Walter recognized the game from personal experience.
He'd done it himself in the past, a time or ten.
The headlights behind him went bright and stayed there, pressing closer, urging him to go faster. Walter's hands sweated on the wheel.
He was just as boxed in as the car behind him. If he speeded up, he knew the Nissan would speed up, too...and the Mercedes would never get enough of a jump on the silver street rod to open a gap for the third vehicle to slip through.
If Walter slowed down, so would the Nissan. If he cut his speed suddenly, he might get hit from behind. If he veered off onto the berm, he might slide on the gravel and crash in the fields along the road.
It was a bad situation, and he knew it.
“Walter?” said Sue, stirring in the passenger seat. “What's going on?”
Walter kept his eyes on the road and held steady, but inwardly he flinched. He wished she had stayed asleep until the end of the action; Sue was a terrible passenger under the best circumstances, prone to sudden jumps and outcries over nothing. She even got alarmed if a car pulled up to a stop sign on a side street ahead of them in their own suburban neighborhood.
“Nothing to worry about,” Walter said tightly. “Get some more shuteye, honey.”
Unfortunately, Sue sniffed out the danger right away. “Oh my God,” she said, looking left at the Nissan, then twisting around to squint into the high beams behind them. “Slow down, Walter,” she said breathlessly, the seeds of panic already audible in her voice.
“Honey,” said Walter, watching the brights rush closer in the rearview. “Please close your eyes. I promise everything will be fine.”
“Slow down,” said Sue, her voice rising. “Pull over and let him pass.”
“He might hit us,” said Walter. “He's right on our ass.”
“I asked you not to do this anymore,” she said, anger joining the panic in her voice. “No more road rage.”
The headlights cut left, then jumped back seconds later. “It's not me,” said Walter. He pried his right hand from the wheel and wiped his sweaty palm on his pants. “I swear I didn't do anything. It's this maniac beside me.”
“Just pull over!” said Sue.
Walter wiped the palm of his left hand on his pants, then tightened both hands on the wheel. He knew she wouldn't like what he was planning to do...but he was sure she wouldn't like anything he did at this point. “I'm sorry, honey,” he said. “Hold on tight.”
Then, he wrenched the wheel left.
The Mercedes crossed the center line and leaped toward the Nissan. Sue was already shrieking when the two cars made contact.
Propelled by the impact, the Nissan flashed left, sailing toward the side of the road. After the bump, Walter swung the Mercedes right, shunting back into the right lane.
At which point, the third vehicle slammed into him.
The plan had been to nudge the Nissan onto the berm, then bolt the Mercedes back into the right lane and let the third vehicle pass on the left. Unfortunately, the driver behind him had gone a different route.
Instead of hanging back during the bump and passing on the left, the third vehicle â a tricked-out Subaru â had surged forward on the right as soon as Walter had gone left. The Subaru had not gotten clear before the Mercedes had flown back into the right lane.
The next moments, as the Subaru and Mercedes collided and bucked off the road to the right, were a screaming, roaring blur to Walter. He saw the thick trunk of the tree hurtling toward him in the swath of his headlights; over Sue's screams, he heard the explosive crash of his car's front end as it crumpled against the wood.
He let go of the wheel and threw his arms up in front of his face. His last word that night was an obscenity; his last conscious thought was an incoherent jumble.
Now, a year later, his left arm was still useless, forever useless...and his wife was still gone, forever gone.
And he had a mission in life, a mission he embraced with a force of purpose unlike any he had ever known. Every night, he rode the same stretch of highway where the life of his wife and a passenger in the Subaru had ended...back and forth, mile after familiar mile, spotting road ragers like deer in his headlights and bringing them down.
Whenever he saw someone tormenting another driver, tailgating or cutting someone off or passing on the two-lane too close to oncoming traffic, he went after them. Gave them a taste of their own medicine.
Drove them off the road the way he'd been driven, then scratched another notch in his dashboard.
The Honda now trapped behind him would be number twenty-one.
Not that the kid at the wheel of the Honda was making it easy. The kid veered right and left in a constant serpentine and almost got around him once; the little car didn't look like the fastest Walter had ever fought, but the driver was turning out to be a challenge.
That was fine with Walter. He hadn't failed a single time in knocking a target off the road.
The kid faked left, then cut hard to the right, but Walter anticipated the move and headed him off. When the kid tried passing on the berm, Walter blocked him there, too.
The kid faded back then, gapping two car lengths from the Dodge and holding the right lane as if he were giving up the fight...but Walter knew better. Sure enough, after a minute or two, the Honda opened up and bolted left, making a break for it.
Walter ticked the joystick left and closed the hole with no problem. The kid cut his speed in a hurry and barely missed hitting the SUV.
“Nice try, you little shit,” said Walter, grinning in the rearview as the kid screamed and gestured behind him. “You're gonna have to do better than that.”
As if the kid had heard the challenge, he proceeded to meet it.
To Walter's surprise, the kid suddenly hit the brakes and swung the Honda around hard, spinning a full 180 degrees over the blacktop. When the car's nose pointed back down the road in the direction from which he'd come, he floored it, charging off with tires screeching.
Cursing, Walter looped the Dodge in a wide arc, rolling over the berm and across both lanes, hauling the front end around to aim at the kid. By the time he got turned around, the kid had a huge h
ead start; the SUV's weaknessâ
ility to make tight, fast turnsâ
had cost Walter his catbird seat lead.
He slammed the accelerator down and shot off after the kid, more worried about catching up to his prey than the fact that he was heading in the direction from which oncoming traffic could spring at any moment.
Walter had almost caught up to the fleeing Subaru when the first set of headlights poked around a bend about a half mile off, flaring straight toward him. As they drew closer, he could see that the lights were elevated, mounted higher above the pavement than those of a car would be.
This, he quickly realized, was because the lights belonged to a tractor trailer.
Briefly, as the danger of what he was doing sunk in, Walter considered giving up the chase...but there was that kid up ahead of him, cruising merrily onward, probably laughing his ass off at the thought of getting away from the big bad SUV. Instead of getting a scare, the kid would probably drive away from this with renewed bravado and a story full of boasting for his friends, encouraged to continue his reckless ways.
Walter wasn't about to let that happen.
Sticking to the right-hand lane (right to him, left to the tractor trailer), Walter plowed forward at top speed, gaining on the kid. The gap closed from ten car lengths to seven to five; Walter figured he would catch up to his target shortly after the truck went past.
His estimate flew out the window, however, when the kid again did the unexpected. When the Subaru was fewer than five car lengths from the oncoming tractor trailer, the kid zipped left, charging into the giant vehicle's path.
The trucker did not even have time to blast his horn. Suddenly nose to nose with the kid's car, he hit the brakes and flung the cab into the next lane, the trailer snaking along behind him.
Now, the truck was plowing straight toward Walter.