All Stories, Crime/Mystery/Thriller

Too Close to Hell by Phil Hurst

Someone is locked in the trunk of the car. They bang against their prison as the woman climbs onto the roof.

“Stay quiet,” she says. She settles on the roof, crosses her legs, and closes her eyes.

Billy drags himself along the ground to get closer to the road. Mud collects on his clothing, and he feels a cold damp sensation on his stomach. He shouldn’t be here, but he can’t help himself.

The woman and her car are in the centre of the single-track road that winds its way through the forest. To Billy’s left is freedom, to his right is The Compound. The woman was driving toward The Compound.

The hazard lights blink on and off, illuminating a flat front tyre.

Billy doesn’t recognise her, so he guesses, given the captive in the trunk, that The Foreman has hired her to bring back a runaway.

A runaway like him.

Billy has avoided capture by doing the one thing they never expected. He stayed close to The Compound, hiding in the woods, living off the land and keeping out of sight. It isn’t the easiest life – he soon forgot what it was like to go to bed with a full stomach – but it beat servitude.

The trees shroud him in darkness and he is confident that he can’t be seen, even though he isn’t more than twenty feet from where the forest meets the road.

The woman sighs and taps the roof. There’s a muffled noise from the trunk, but Billy is too far away to hear.

“Well it’s your piece of shit car that’s got us here. Another five miles and we’d be at The Compound, and all of this would be over.”

Another response. She laughs.

“You wish.”

She returns to her quasi-meditation.

Billy considers returning to his campsite, leaving the woman and her captive to their business, and in the morning, whatever was happening would have played out and he’d be rid of them.

But to do that would be to abandon someone to life in The Compound. He lies as still as possible and works out his options.

Before he reaches the end of his deliberations another car approaches from his left, crunching along the gravel road. Headlights blink through the trees.

Soon the breakdown is illuminated. The second car pulls to a stop right in front of Billy.

The woman waves. An awkward looking man dressed in a long grey coat clambers out. A gun is taped to the inside of the driver’s door which the man stands behind like a Roman with his shield.

The night air is still. The creatures that have been Billy’s neighbours are waiting like he is, as if the whole forest is holding its breath.

“Need help?” the man says.

“If you don’t mind,” the woman replies.

The man rubs his hands together.

“What happened?” he asks.

“Flat tyre. In the middle of nowhere.” She taps the old machine. “Bad luck, I guess.”

The man flicks a switch somewhere in his footwell and his trunk pops open. As the man walks to the trunk, Billy, crouching low, moves with him.

On the underside is a picture of the woman, taped next to two other photos. Those photos have thick black crosses drawn over them.

The man reaches to the back of his jeans and places another small revolver into his waistband, then pulls his coat around it.

Seeing the gun, Billy wonders if he should warn her. Then he remembers she’s taking someone to The Compound against their will. That doesn’t make her a good person in Billy’s eyes.

The man retrieves a tyre iron and a jack and Billy knows he has some time. The man is not going to reach for the gun with his hands full.

“My name’s Imen by the way,” he says.

“Cara.”

“Nice to meet you, Cara.”

Imen lies down and places the jack underneath the car. His long coat covers his back, there’s no chance that Cara can see the gun.

Imen pushes the jack and the car starts to lift.

There’s a bump from the trunk.

Cara puts her hand on it.

“What was that?” Imen says.

“Shoes? Boots? Football? If I’m honest,” Cara says, “I’m not even sure what’s in there anymore.”

“Uh huh.” Imen grunts as he loosens the wheel nuts. “As long as we can get to the spare.”

He’s not looking at her, so he can’t see the panic flash across her features.

Billy decides his priority is the prisoner. Whatever the other two are up to can be left to work itself out.

“What brings you this way?” Cara asks.

“I’m a doctor,” Imen says, “someone’s come down with something up the road.”

“Oh,” she says, “who?”

“You know,” he laughs, breathless, “they didn’t tell me on the phone.”

Imen pulls the final bolt off the wheel and pulls it off the axle.

“Now then,” he says, “let’s get that spare.”

“About that,” she says, and kicks him in the stomach. He staggers backward and trips over, landing on his backside. He coughs and tries to catch his breath as Cara leans down and picks up the tyre iron.

“Keys,” she says and holds out her hand.

“I’m trying to help,” he says. The words come in gasps.

“Keys,” she repeats. She brings the tyre iron down on his shin.

Imen screams in pain and holds his left hand up as he reaches around with his right. From Cara’s location it probably appears that he’s getting the keys out of his pocket.

Then, in a flash, the gun is out in front of him.

“Step back,” he says.

She does, raising her hands.

“This is not how I imagined this,” Imen says. He pulls himself up as best he can, although he can’t put any weight on the injured leg.

As they stare at each other, Billy takes the opportunity to run behind the cars. He dives into the undergrowth when he reaches the other side of the road.

He feels a scratch on his arm as something slices his skin.

“What was that?” Cara says.

“Animals.”

Neither of them believes that.

He finds a stone and hurls it toward the cars. It bounces off the windscreen of Cara’s car, cracking the glass.

“What was that?” Imen says, looking around.

Cara kicks out at Imen, knocking him against the car. Reacting, he tries to support himself on his smashed leg, but screams and falls the ground. Cara jumps toward him, swinging her fists.

There’s a flash of light and a gunshot.

Cara tumbles off the road. She falls into the bushes where Billy had been hiding moments before. Imen collapses, unconscious.

As the noise of the gunshot drifts into the silence of the forest, whoever is in the trunk starts hammering. Billy wonders if the victim has sensed the situation has changed, that they might have a way out.

Billy charges onto the road and barges into the car at pace, knocking it off the jack.

With a creak it leans away from him and falls with a dull thud and a horrible squishing noise. Billy closes his eyes for a second. That was not his intention.

He moves around the car. The car has landed on Imen’s back. Blood pours out of the man’s mouth. Too much blood to mean anything but death. It seeps through the stones, disappearing into the road.

Billy has never killed anyone before. He takes in a few deep breaths, but there’s a strange metallic taste in the air that makes him gag.

This is what he has to do, he realises, if he’s to fight The Compound. He outwitted them by hiding in the woods, but he’ll never impact them, on their fucked-up way of life, unless he does something drastic.

He walks to the trunk and places his hand on the release.

“Who the fuck are you?” Cara says from the undergrowth. She struggles into the blinking orange light, hair a bush and blood soaking the clothes on her shoulder.

Billy doesn’t say anything.

He presses the button and the trunk springs open.

There’s a click and a buzz.

He falls to the ground. He can’t bring out his hand to protect himself, and he feels the pain as he lands. There’s a shiver running through his chest, taking control of his muscles.

A tazer.

“Is that who I think it is?” Billy’s ears are ringing and his face is sore where it’s lying against the gravel. A dark figure climbs of the of trunk.

“One of your escapees?” Cara asks.

“Your lot couldn’t find him.”

The man squats over Billy and rubs his hand along his cheek. Billy knows the voice now. It’s the voice he would hear in his nightmares as he hid in the woods. It’s the voice of a man who takes pride in being on most wanted lists. The man who would have to hide in the back of a car to avoid law enforcement.

“What do we do with him?” Cara asks.

“Put him in the trunk,” The Foreman says, “it’s about time he came home.”

Phil Hurst

Image: Pixabay.com

2 thoughts on “Too Close to Hell by Phil Hurst”

  1. This is so tragic. Misconstruing a situation proves to be disastrous. I think goodness often assumes the best. This was dark, unapologetic with a crushing twist at the end. Literally and metaphorically. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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