Thinking the Worst – a short story written 2011

Ellie drove fast.  She always had done and remained undeterred by speeding fines or well-meant warnings from those that loved her.

Tonight, Ellie felt that she was driving fast to escape.  Things had not been going so well.  The day, in the end, would be an exercise in how, sometimes, God really likes to kick you when you’re down.  It had started quite well – always a bad sign, thought Ellie – the sun was shining, turning the last few remaining autumn leaves to gold, the sky a clear wintry blue, tea in bed and a long lie in.  It had been the perfect start to a weekend that followed a long and difficult week.  But, where the great weekend started it also managed to end.  Once Ellie got out of bed the rest of the day seemed to rapidly travel from just about perfect to worse.  Little more than a combination of the endless chores her life seemed to be made up of and the usual metamorphosis, from Tigger to Eeyore that just getting out of bed seemed to induce, meant Ellie was soon back to her usual unhappy self.  Perhaps, if she hadn’t been lost in a mire of self-pity, things might have turned out differently.  As it was Ellie was going to learn just how much life really could suck.

As Ellie ran her mind back over the day it seemed to her that getting out of bed had been the mistake.  It wasn’t the first time she had felt like this.  Recently, getting out of bed and facing the world was the hardest thing she had to do, and the last thing she wanted to do.  However, Ellie was all too aware the path that feeling led to.  It might have been almost ten years ago but she still remembered what it felt like to be so weighed down by the world that moving around in it hurt.

For a while now Ellie knew she had been courting depression.  You couldn’t blame her.  Not really.  Things just hadn’t been going her way.  Most days Ellie switched between thinking there was something deeply wrong with her to, rather more sanely, cursing her job as a high school English teacher for taking up all her available time.  Only last weekend she had ended yet another fledgling relationship because she genuinely didn’t have the time or energy to commit.   The psychologist in her didn’t help matters by occasionally pointing out she probably used her work to hide behind because she had really been hurt by her last big (failed) relationship and needed time to heal. Far as Ellie felt right now it didn’t matter which way you looked at her life, it all looked pretty crappy-dappy.

Ellie shook herself out of her maudlin reverie and concentrated on the road ahead.  The trees either side were little more than a dark blur as she shot down the rain-swept road.  She considered the word, turning it over in her head.  Maudlin.  Maudlin.  It suited her.  She didn’t like it.  There had been a time when she was anything but maudlin.

To try and dispel the gloom Ellie drove even faster and turned her music on.  Metallica blared from the speakers causing Nettie, her aging West Highland Terrier, to grumble in her sleep.  Ellie reached out and affectionately patted her, ‘my sole reason for living’ she thought to herself.  Nettie had been Ellie’s constant companion since the end of the ‘last big (failed) relationship’.  After being lonely and reclusive for months she had finally decided she needed something to love to fill the huge gaping sore where her heart once was.  Nettie was that something and she had more than filled the gap.  Their relationship had been massively dependant from the start, on both sides, as Nettie was partially blind and deaf; operating on scent alone and Ellie was an emotional wreck.  They truly needed each other and it was this continuing need that really kept Ellie going, no-one else was going to look out for the old girl.  For Ellie, there were times when nothing but that old girl’s little face could make Ellie smile.  Now was one of those times.  In fact, thought Ellie, driving along hell bent for leather, rocking out to ‘tallica with my girl is the first time in a while I have felt, light, was that the right word?  Ellie pondered that for the remainder of her journey.

###

She had driven to her best friend’s place, a cosy little bungalow they had dubbed ‘The Den’.  It was where she always went when things got too much and she needed to get out of her head for a while.  No matter what else went wrong Nicole was always there for her.  There were times, when things got really, really bad, that Ellie felt Nicole was her only true friend.  In these dark days very few people had proved they could be trusted.  Nicole was one of the very few.

As expected, Nicole had lifted Ellie’s mood, from the depths to which it had sunk.  Without being asked or told she had planned the perfect evening; light smokes, chocolate biscuits, cute dancing penguins (not actual penguins but Happy Feet).  Brilliant.  Ellie left, several hours later, feeling lighter of heart.  The real treat had been the thirty minute clip Nicole had found of Ellie’s favourite horror author giving a talk.

Ellie left The Den feeling a great deal better.  She even took a moment to stop and breathe the sharp night air feeling the chill go all the way to her lungs.  The stars twinkled coldly in the black sky and for once, looking up at them Ellie didn’t feel insignificant, just in awe.  With a smile on her face for the first time in weeks, Ellie walked to her car.  She even found herself entertaining the thought that, perhaps, things weren’t as bad as they seemed.  It is always following moments like these that life really likes to work the irony angle, Ellie was close to finding out just how much cosmic irony life had already prepared for her.

Ellie reached her car and started to fish her keys out of her pocket, at the same time, Nettie, out of nowhere, began to strain on the lead, her claws scraping on the tarmac.  Ellie’s heart shot into her mouth.  Just as her favourite writer had said, in response to the question about where he got his ideas from, Ellie started to imagine the very worst thing that could happen.  The hair on the nape of her neck stood up in a very clichéd manner.  The wind tickled it and added to the chill coursing down Ellie’s spine.  Suddenly the winter cold no longer seemed refreshing but bone chilling, reminiscent of long closed tombs.  Her mind racing, Ellie fumbled and dropped the keys.  As she bent down to retrieve them she almost saw the shadow of a man hunched over in the back seat of her car.  Again, the much loved author’s voice passed through her mind, “one in fifty of you will have forgotten to lock your cars… imagine there’s a psychopath.”  Ellie let out a low moan as fear placed and then tightened iron bands around her chest.  She swallowed, her throat making a dry click, her mouth tasted of ashes.  Any minute, she thought, any minute, as she waited for the blow to the back of her head.  Just to make matters worse Nettie started up again, snapping and barking.  Then, Ellie saw the eyes.  Golden-green, glinting at her from under the car.  Ellie felt her knees turn to water as she thought, ‘he’s not in it, he’s under it.  I always lock my car but he waited underneath instead.’  Nettie uttered a warning growl as the eyes vanished.

Suddenly, there was a hurried movement and a small tabby burst from under the car.  Ellie jumped and uttered a squeak of relief as Nettie strained to give chase, whimpering and snorting. “C’mon girl.” Ellie said, taking comfort from the words spoken aloud. “Let’s get us home.”  She wondered how long it would take before her heart rate returned to normal.

Feeling more than slightly silly, Ellie unlocked the car and slid behind the wheel.  She resisted the urge to check the back seat knowing full well there had been no shadow.  However, her mind continued to whisper, “imagine there’s a psychopath… imagine there’s a psychopath.”  As things would turn out that urge was well worth heeding.

“For goodness sake Ellie, get a grip.”  Nettie looked up, her face quite comical as she  seemed to puzzle whether or not her mistress has been talking to her before deciding, if she was, it hadn’t been important and resumed her pre-sleep doggy-circle ritual.

Ellie drove fast.  The trees blurred into patches of light and dark either side of the car.  Occasionally headlights flashed past as she flew by other cars.  She hummed along to Metallica.  Well, she hummed along to Metallica as best she could.  Death Magnetic wasn’t the most hummable of their albums.  She had wanted to sing along to the Black Album but, as it turned out, Death Magnetic was the only one on her iPod.  As they said in the book she was currently reading “no bounce, no play.”  Ellie skilfully avoided the thought that was trying to sneak in on the tail of that one – something about her life clearly having no bounce, or similar.

Ellie was in the middle of belting out “love is a four letter wo-ord” when she felt something pressing against her throat.  Assuming she had somehow sat on her poncho and then somehow managed to semi-strangle herself she reached up to free it.  Instead of meeting soft-fluffy as she was expecting Ellie’s fingers encountered cold-hard instead.  She frowned, that wasn’t right.

Before she could glance up or look behind her a voice growled, “Don’t scream, don’t stop, just do as I say.”  This time Ellie’s heart just sunk as she felt dread slowly, incipiently take over her.  She glanced in the rear view mirror, not that it helped, all she could see was a hulking dark mass that blocked all view out of the back.  Ellie found herself half hoping, half fearing, that a car would go past so it’s headlights would illuminate the shape and reveal the man (monster).  “Now, I am going to move into the front seat.  You will not try anything.  If you do I will kill you.  Understand?”  Ellie nodded before squeaking an “oh.”

“Oh?” every time the voice spoke she could feel breath puffing at her ear.  Instinctively, every time it did, she held her breath, imagining it would smell of rot and graves and corpses.  Ellie opened her mouth to reply and found her throat had locked up.  She couldn’t speak.  She had to.  Ellie swallowed and tried again.

“M… my dog.  I need to move… Nettie. Um.”  Ellie wafted her hand in the direction of the sleeping pooch to illustrate her point.  She cringed inwardly knowing full well there was nothing to stop him throwing Nettie out of the window or worse.  Still, it was better than her being sat on.  All she could do was hope that he didn’t have time to waste on animal abuse as well.  For a moment she had almost hoped he had the smallest grain of compassion that would save Nettie’s life.  Somehow, Ellie thought, a man who lies in wait in the back of a car, with a knife, isn’t going to have much in the way of warm fuzzy feelings.

“Fine.” For a moment Ellie though that was it and her brain scrambled to figure out what he meant, fine you can move her? Fine she can stay? Fine I’ll kill her anyway?

“Pull over, I’ll take the dog, you try anything, no dog. Geddit?”  Again too afraid to speak Ellie nodded assent.  She slowed the car and pulled onto the verge.  The shape moved, releasing the pressure on her throat, as it leaned forward to grab Nettie.  Unaware, as yet, of any threat Nettie simply grumbled in her sleep and allowed herself to be moved.  Well, though Ellie, why wouldn’t she, she had no idea the person lifting her could snap her neck quite happily if he chose.  Mine or the dog’s, Ellie thought.  As soon as he had hold of the dog he demanded Ellie opened the passenger door.  She did as she was asked and then, without having to be told, automatically reached round – contorting her body slightly to reach- and released the chair so it flopped forward.  Still holding Nettie, the shape moved and Ellie noticed the suspension bounce slightly as the man exited the car.  Christ he’s a big-un she thought.

Once he had settled in the front with Nettie held firmly in his lap – Ellie’s stomach had lurched slightly at the sight of that, not that Nettie noticed anything wrong, as far as she was concerned they had just picked up a passenger.  Nothing unusual here. – he instructed Ellie to drive. She considered asking him where he was going to take her/what he was planning on doing until she realised that 1. she really didn’t want to know and 2. She would find out soon enough. So she drove.  They still barrelled down the road, Ellie often joked that she had a lead foot and that her speeding was as a result of a medical condition.  The simple fact was she couldn’t drive slowly.  However, suddenly Ellie found herself struggling to maintain her speed, her mind tormenting her with images of rape, dismemberment and anything else she had stored away in her horror movie vault.  She felt sick at the thought of his hands on her dog, let alone on her. Ugh, Ellie shuddered and tried desperately to clear her mind.

“I want you to keep following this road.” He ordered. “When I want you to turn off, I will tell you.” And you will do as I say, no funny stuff, Ellie thought.   And so she drove, and drove, each minute taking her further and further away from the warm, safe, happy she had been feeling.   She found herself wanting a cigarette, even though she had given up smoking (except for a little bit of weed now and then) years ago.  Instead of the horrific images her mind insisted on focussing on, Ellie thought about that cigarette.  She imagined the snap and fizz of the lighter, the flare of the flame as she put it to the tip of the cigarette,  first intake of smoke, the taste as it burned its way down to her lungs, the smoky exhale and the nicotine buzz that always accompanied the first smoke of the day.  If I get out of this, she thought, I am going to take up smoking again.  I’ll smoke ’til my lungs go black, she decided, ignoring the voice in the back of her mind that insisted that was a promise she would never get to keep.   And let’s be honest, Ellie, it whispered, when it’s all done it’ll be a relief. No responsibility, no worry that you abandoned those that love you, no guilt that you parents wold forever wonder what they did to fail you.  The best thing you can hope for now is that he makes it quick.

At some point he directed her to turn off.  Metallica still played, Nettie still slept and Ellie still wrestled with the enemy buried deep in her mind.  The one that kept telling her this was really what she had wanted all along.  The release of death without the responsibility of the act.  Instead she started to wonder how long before he would direct her to a rundown shack, or a basement somewhere that would be filled with all kinds of torture implements.   Again her sick mind threw up images lifted from torture porn movies she had long ago become desensitized to.  No doubt she would finally experience the terror the film makers had intended to induce in their audience. Funnily enough that didn’t make Ellie feel very good.

“Not long now.” He intoned, snapping Ellie back to reality, and then he laughed.  From the grating sound of it laughing was not something he did often.  No doubt being a psychopath who hid in the back of unsuspecting women’s cars he didn’t often get many laughs.  Except for when he was flaying them alive, he probably laughed a lot then.   Suddenly a thought bubbled up into her mind.  Her car had been locked outside Cole’s.  That meant he hadn’t hidden in it then.   Ellie’s mind reeled as she considered the idea that he had been back there much longer.  Her eyes widened in shock.  She had been driving around with this maniac in the back of her car for God knows how long.  Involuntarily her head jerked and turned to the side, and she looked straight at her kidnapper.  This hulking beast had lain in wait for her.  Had been in close proximity, not only to Ellie but to her beloved Nettie too.   At any point she could have reached out and touched him.  Her stomach rolled violently.  At that moment the monster next to her turned and looked her full in the face.  His lip lifted in a sneer as he took in the expression of horror stamped clearly across her features.

“You’re wondering how long I’ve been,” he chuckled, a deep grinding, phlegmy chuckle, “lying in wait.”  Ellie felt a momentary flash of anger that would almost be her undoing.

“Actually, yeah.” She spat.   The sneer vanished and his eyes sparked as his fist lashed out.  He hit her squarely in the jaw, snapping her head backwards.  It cracked against the side window with such force, that Ellie dimly registered surprise that the window held.   Black mist hovered at the edge of her vision as she struggled to keep conscious.

“Now, now.” He warned as he slapped her sharply bringing the world back into focus.  “Don’t you go fainting on me.”   At the same time he reached out and grabbed the wheel, stopping the car from drifting across the central line.  “Now keep your eyes on the road bitch.” Eyes watering and head throbbing, Ellie did exactly as she was told as she considered when she had, unknowingly, picked up this passenger.

It had to have been recent, within the day definitely.  Ellie thought back over all the places she had been.  She was usually so fastidious about locking her doors, not quite on the level of OCD but she would check two to three times, so she was looking for a place or situation that allowed her to be lax.  Not outside her flat for sure, she always checked and double checked there.  The parking area for her flats wasn’t overlooked and, oh, how often she had scared herself with the idea of a maniac lying in wait there.  Not at her sister’s either, Caz had an underground parking garage with key code lock.  She had stopped by during the day to pick up some boxes of junk and remembered trying to juggle the boxes and car keys, actually inwardly cursing her paranoia for making the job harder.  So what did that leave?  She’d stopped for petrol but, again, she usually locked the doors so – wait for it- no one would steal Nettie.  Ellie stifled a gasp, she hadn’t had Nettie in the car during the day because she was running errands and didn’t want her to get in the way.  So there then? Or the last place she had stopped; a charity shop to drop off the boxes of junk she’d collected from Caz’s?  Oh God, thought Ellie, that was it.  She hadn’t bothered to lock the car then, just pulled up, hopped out, removed the boxes from the trunk, taken them into the shop and gone on her way.  Was it long enough for someone to sneak in? Probably.  Whether it was there or at the petrol station it meant he had been in there for most of the day and had travelled all the way to Cole’s with her and Nettie.  God, thought Ellie, I must be so self-obsessed I didn’t even notice.

And that right there is life’s idea of humour; cosmic irony.  So bound up in thoughts, wishes, desires, of her own death, Ellie had probably brought it on herself anyway.  Hardy, ha, ha, ha.  Aware she truly only had herself to blame, Ellie lost herself in a mire of self-pity.  For the next half hour she considered miserably how typical this was.  As if her life didn’t suck already, she had to be kidnapped and beaten.  Poor, poor me, thought Ellie.  Then, he directed her to turn off the road onto a muddy track.

For a moment Ellie considered putting the pedal to the metal, sticking an egg into her shoe and beating it, making like a tree, but it would do no good.  As they had neared the turnoff he had gripped Nettie tighter, a small but clear message and one Ellie completely understood.  My only reason to live she thought bitterly.  The sudden resentment she felt for the pooch, the feeling that she could have done something more than wallowing in self-pity, had she not had to protect Nettie, incensed her.  Ellie experienced a wave of disgust. How could she even consider holding Nettie responsible for any of this?  More importantly, how could she even dare to think that any of this had been to protect Nettie?  In truth, her inactivity would cost Nettie as dearly as it would cost her.  The poor little lamb had no idea what was in store.

Rage surged though Ellie, Nettie did not deserve this. ‘Hell, I do not deserve this.’ Ellie thought, the idea a clarion call.  Instantly Ellie realised she had to survive.  A picture of Nettie running through dark woods, terrified, alone and pursued vied for space with the image of Nettie sitting beside her mistress howling, or, worse nudging at her in the hope she would wake.  That will not happen, vowed Ellie.

She knew she had minutes, minutes before the headlights picked out the porch or gate of some abandoned farmhouse.  One with a well-stocked torture basement and en suite graves.  If she was going to act it would have to be quick.  Whatever she did would have to take him out quick or things would get much, much worse for her and the dog.  It didn’t help that he still held Nettie hostage.  ‘Shit, shit shit; c’mon El’s get a grip. Fuck, think.’ Frantically she tried to think of a way to escape as she waited for the house to loom up ahead.  The car jolted and bumped down the uneven track as Ellie considered options, discounting every one.

At the same time she saw a light patch coalesce, becoming a building, the ogre turned and unceremoniously dumped Nettie onto the back seat.

“In a minute you are going to,” a pause, “kill the engine and give me the keys.”  Ellie nodded meekly, playing along for the moment.  Just then, the voice of James Hetfield filtered through, “what doesn’t kill you makes you,” a beat, chord, and a growl, “MORE STRONG.”   Serendipitously Ellie dropped her hand and jumped as her fingers encountered cold metal.  My krooklock, she thought and heard faintly “once with the head, six times with the krooklock”.  Without another thought Ellie lashed out with her head feeling something squish as she connected with, she presumed, his nose.  Ashe followed through with her right arm, sliding the krooklock out of the side pocket and slugged him with it.  Something was making a loud roaring, screaming sound.  Almost animal, definitely inhuman.  At first she thought it was the beast, until she came back into herself and realised the noise was her and in it were words, “I… will… not… die…  Not… here.” One for each slug.

Breath coming in raged gasps, Ellie leaned back against the door and observed the slumped figure opposite her.  Gingerly she reached across and released the passenger door before lifting her legs up and out from under the steering wheel and kicking him out of the car into the darkness.  Shaking, expecting him to rise up out of the darkness like some B movie villain, three times, you always have to kill them three times; Ellie scrambled across to reach the door and, with the last of her strength, heaved it shut. Central locking engaged she twisted round, coaxed Nettie onto her lap, pulled her close, buried her face in her fur and sobbed.

Unlike Armitage’s man on the edge, Ellie wasn’t content to just let the unwanted hitchhiker fall to the side of the road before driving off.  She still didn’t know exactly where he had got in the car, but wherever it had been it would be somewhere she would likely go again. Somehow, she knew if he left here alive he would find her and then, whatever he had planned this time would seem like a tea party in comparison.  Still thinking, three times, always have to kill them three times, like a mantra, she reversed the car until she could see his hulked form in the headlights, slammed the car into first, revved and then carefully and precisely drove over the lump.  Once on the other side she stuck the car in reverse and slowly backed over him.  “Three’s the charm” she said out loud, the chirpiness in her voice unsettling at best.  She shouldn’t be feeling this good, not after her ordeal but, she thought to herself as she drove away (heading for her sister’s place with the underground, code lock garage) she had survived the very worst.  This time she acknowledged the thought that followed closely, you couldn’t say that for everyone involved.  Indeed it seemed to Ellie, if the old urban myth of the maniac in the back of the car can be rewritten, then maybe her so called crappy life could be rewritten.

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