The evening fog was getting heavier, so Philip flicked his headlights down to dipped beam. Unknown, unlit countryside and the earlier incident had been bad enough.
“You agree, don’t you?” Philip glanced at his passenger. “We couldn’t have done anything else.”
“Whatever ….” Lauren said, not looking at her married lover.
“What do you mean, whatever? If I’d stopped, there would have been questions, and names would be required.”
“I’ve got nothing to hide.” The teenager peered into the illuminated grey mass ahead.
“Oh, bollocks,” Philip said. “The fuel tank is showing reserve. Now I’ll have to slow down to make the fuel last.”
They travelled in silence for fifteen minutes.
“There.” Lauren pointed left. “A coloured sign—like a petrol station.”
Philip hadn’t seen it, but took the next exit fifty metres farther.
He squinted. “What was the number on that road sign?”
“It looked like B811, but somebody has vandalised it.” Lauren turned to Philip. “The top and bottom of the B was missing, and so was the right side of the 8.”
“Hell,” Philip whispered, shaking his head.
“Nothing,” Philip muttered, and concentrated on the winding, narrow road. There were no white lines, but plenty of potholes. The car hit a crater, and the headlights started to flicker. Philip pursed his lips, and his rapid breathing bellowed from his flared nostrils.
“Fucking Hell.” Philip sighed. “What else can go wrong for me tonight?” Being caught up in this situation, he didn’t consider his teenage mistress.
Lauren rolled her eyes and shrugged.
Looming out of the mist was a small kiosk, and two petrol pumps. The building was illuminated by a flickering fluorescent light, but there was no attendant in view. Only one pump was switched on, so Philip pulled up alongside. The engine spluttered; and died.
He flicked the petrol cap release, and got out. As he closed the door, the lights of the pump and the kiosk went off simultaneously.
“Fuck it!” Philip marched up to the tiny building, pushed the door open, and stepped inside. As he stood in the darkness trying to focus, there was a spine-chilling scream. Philip looked outside, but couldn’t see the car or the fuel pumps because of the swirling mist.
He closed his eyes briefly, and shook his head. When he stepped toward the door, he tripped over something, and threw his hands forward to break his fall. Two of his fingers were caught in the handle of a fire extinguisher. Both fingers were fractured.
“Christ!” Philip screamed in the darkness. He got to his feet, and pulled on the door handle with his good hand. The door wouldn’t budge.
Lauren’s cry was cut off prematurely. “Help me, Phil—”
Philip stared into the darkness, his teeth gritted, and right fist clenched. Pain was coursing up his left arm from his broken fingers. He lifted the fire extinguisher, and hammered it against the door. It took five attempts to clear enough glass to let him climb through the frame. The jagged splinters tore his clothes and his flesh.
Philip’s pains were forgotten when he heard another ear-piercing scream. He ran towards the car, and stopped short. Lauren was strapped tight into the passenger seat, her eyes wide and staring. Her lips were quivering, and her neck was lashed to the headrest with rope.
“Get in,” a deep male voice said, from the darkness of the back seat.
For the first time in his life, Philip forgot his own issues, and climbed into the driver’s seat, instinctively pulling on his seatbelt. Everything went black.
When Philip opened his eyes, he tried to focus. He became aware of a throbbing pain in his skull, and severe pain in his left hand. As his memory returned, he heard sobbing.
Philip turned to see the pale, tear-stained face of his young lover, and felt something rub his neck. He realised if he moved the noose tightened. He faced forward—and listened.
Outside the passenger window a voice whispered. “If you had stopped, and helped the girl you hit—she would have survived.”
Philip heard metal scraping glass to his left. He tried to focus with his peripheral vision, beyond his hysterical girlfriend.
As the nozzle of the fuel hose was squeezed in through the window, the strange voice asked a rhetorical question.
“Premium, isn’t it, Philip?” The stench of fuel filled the interior as the liquid gushed over both occupants.
Nobody heard their screams when the fuel was ignited.
This story is a selection from Smoke & Mirrors: and other stories.