Saturday, 4 March 2017

Short Story: Close Encounters

by Fenella Johnson


Some children like audio tapes of stories but hate travelling;others like travelling but hate
audio tapes of stories.Funny how often they find themselves in the same car,so that I could
not longer see that stretch of English countryside with it's small white churches whose faces
beamed from the rolling hills and the wheat fields soaked in oil and gold,without thinking of
the Famous Five or Roald Dahl.In the same way,when I was an adult and in another car in
another country,it was funny too how some people hate sleeping in cars while others let their
limbs go woozy and bulky to the rhythm of the road.

When the others in the car that day fell asleep,I drove for a short time,pretending to be
alone,watching the trees that posed by the roadside,whose branches snaked together and
emanated a thick unmissable smell of growth.Red flowers,frivolous little grotesqueries,and
bluebells had strangled themselves around the thick trunks. We were in the south of
France,the type of place where even nature performed nature.The road was such that you
couldn't drive fast,and we trundled along at about a man's walking pace.And in the closet
peace provided by the foreign countryside and foreign language,everything seemed
melodramatic and alien.I turned my head towards the window.It was half open and through
the glass I could see the droplets of fatty rain,throwing themselves of the branches the trees
to land on the road in a lazy parody of the storm that had woken me from sleeping during the
night.One of my sisters twitched,ruminating something,her hands curled around my seat.
There had been an explosion on the news,and over by the fields I imagined I saw black orbs
of smoke rising.It was then that I heard it.There were no other cars on the road,no way any
other noise could have been made by anyone else,a distinctive human noise.A guttural
scream,a sickening telegram through the trees.I felt my hands go numb on the steering
wheel with uselessness. By the sleepy open mouthed bank of the river,a figure was
emerging.A figure coming towards the car.It would have been easier to explain to myself if it
had been more fearsome,but it was just a man,a man with a gun.And he was coming closer
and I could feel myself shaking,couldn't even think about thinking,just felt the urge to stop
the car.Stop the car and turn the lights off and huddle down under my seat.I drove on.The
man followed us for another quarter mile,not in a hurry.Just following.Just walking.I could
see his face in the mirror now,the slender skin of his jaw,the flaunt of his walk.I could see his
Adam's apple too and it taunted me,lodged in his throat,glimmering and taut.I had an absurd
thought of tearing it out.


Once in my flat,I heard a noise late at night like a man breathing in my bedroom and groped
the wall for the light switch,struck by that strange fear we all feel when we are at home and
alone and it is late,and we know our happiness rests on someone else's kindness.This was
like that,except somehow worse.I carried on driving and as I drove I shouted,but nobody
roused.That was the worst thing,that nobody else in the car,my two sisters and my brother in
law, would wake up and I found myself hating them more than I did the man following us with
his gun.That they would let me die alone,or let me hurt by this man alone,seemed like a
great betrayal.He was drawing nearer,and his hand would soon touch the boot of the car.My
mind obsessed over the narrative:me,the others in the car,him.Me,who was not quite sure if I
was going to live.Me,who had a new job that I was going to start when I got home.Me,on a
holiday I didn’t want to be on.I thought ridiculously that if he killed us all now,my parents
would be able to get a refund on the new fridge I’d bought.I stopped the car suddenly,before
my mind knew what I was going to do and I got out,I turned to face him.

The sudden movement had woken the others:they watched me approach him like you might
a tennis match,heads following his movements and then mine.When I neared him,we looked
at each other for a long time.He laughed,sniffed the air.I braced myself for the impact.”Nice
day for hunting”,he said.Slung his rifle further up his shoulder.”For deer,I mean.”

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