Eleven Seconds

This is a slight departure from the norm: this is a piece of short fiction I was working on for the Gateshead Short Story Competition 2007. Unfortunately, I never got around to finishing it in time for the competition. Or possibly fortunately, I dunno. You’ll have to make your own minds up about that. In either case, the competition was called “A Twist In The Tale”, and I’m guessing was therefore expected to feature a twist in the tale of some description. I had two ideas for it, the first of which — “Eleven Seconds” — I’ve got round to finishing now:

Your thoughts on it (positive and negative) will be much appreciated.

Eleven Seconds

One. My eyes open.

I’m groggy, my head is swimming and I can’t remember who I am.

I guess I should be concerned about that, but I’m not. Something is nagging at me, something important. I’m just hoping that as my vision starts to clear, I’ll get some kind of a clue.

Plain Black. Then black swirly blobs on a light background. The appearance of colour, edges, clarity. There we are. Vision is functional again, if still a tad dodgy around the edges. Now I’m getting some kind of a clue, and I really don’t like it.

Two. I’m in a car — right hand drive — I’m sat in the driver’s seat, and I’m accelerating. Believe me, this is not a sight you want to come around to.

It gets worse.

You wake up, you’re driving a car, you’re accelerating. Not what you’d call a good start. You wake up, you’re driving a car, you’re accelerating towards a large wall, and you can’t move your arms or legs is, as I’m sure you’ll agree, considerably worse.

The really odd thing was the strong sense of déjà vu this was giving me.

Okay, let’s take stock. I’m surprisingly calm, and I’m not entirely sure why, given the circumstances. My foot is jammed hard on the accelerator, but it’s not like it’s being held there, it’s just that I can’t move my leg. Either leg.

Three. I’m in what appears to be a blue family four-door hatchback of unknown manufacture. My hands are gripping the steering wheel — fairly loosely — in pretty much the ten-to-two position and I’m wearing driving gloves.

I feel icy fingers on my neck, at the top of my spine and I’m very much aware that I’m about to panic. That’s not good. That won’t help. I’ve got to fight it down, I’ve got to fight it down, I’ve got to overcome it, got to somehow work out what has happened to me and more importantly how the fuck I’m going to get out of this mess.

Four. When there is a lot of adrenaline pumping through your body, you think faster. You act faster. It seems as though time itself slows down. I don’t know if that is what is happening here, but it’s evidently something along those lines.

I can see the wall looming closer. It’s big, it’s solid, it’s grey, and it’s getting closer far too quickly. Somehow I need to get control of my body, and then take some action. The way I see it, there are four options:

  • I take control of my body, stamp on the brake and avoid the wall
  • I take control of my body, swerve the car, avoid hitting the wall, and bring it to a gradual halt
  • I take control of my body and dive out of the car — probably at about ninety miles per hour
  • I sit where I am, in the exact same position and then impact with a concrete wall at about ninety miles per hour

Five. The last option is the one I like the least, but it’s looking like it’s the most likely unless I can do something about it.

I’ve got a sneaking feeling that if I can work out exactly what’s going on here, that I’ll know what I’m supposed to do. I’ll know how to reconcile the options, I’ll be able to work it out and maybe even get out of this damn car.

Fight down the panic. Fight it. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death. Fear is the … why the hell am I quoting from the mentats in Frank Herbert’s Dune series?

I guess it seems appropriate. I do need to keep cool. Maybe if I can keep cool, and analyse every last little bit of information available to me, I’ll be able to get out of here.

And maybe I won’t. Either way, panicking won’t help.

Six. Let’s start with me. I can’t remember who I am, I can’t remember what I’m doing here, I’ve just recovered consciousness, I’m feeling groggy and I can’t move. What does that tell me?

Well, there’s a few possibilities — it might always take me several seconds before I gain control of my limbs, for example, but the one that’s jumping right out at me is the possibility that I’ve been drugged, and it’s starting to wear off now.

The only problem being that the wearing off is happening kinda slowly.

Next, there’s the car. Like I say, I’m in a blue family hatchback. Four doors, right hand drive, manual gearshift. I’m in the fourth gear. The speedo shows I’m just touching past seventy. If I’d noticed what the speedo showed five seconds ago, maybe I’d be able to hazard a guess at the horsepower, but I didn’t so I can’t.

There is one very unusual thing though. I can see two cameras in the car. One pointing at me, the other at the windscreen. There may be more behind me, but not being able to move, I can’t exactly turn around to look.

And there’s two more things I notice. One of them is very good. The other one is potentially good or potentially bad. The first is that I can see the door locks, and they aren’t engaged, meaning that if I can get my right hand to move, I should be able to open the door.

Which brings me to the second point. I’m not wearing a seatbelt. That’s an advantage if I can get the door open and hurl myself out of it, but a distinct disadvantage if I don’t manage to avoid the wall, because it means that the car will impact with the wall at about ninety, I’ll impact with the windscreen at about eighty-five and then a split second later with the wall at about eighty miles per hour.

I’m not keen on this idea at all.

Seven. I appear to be driving the car indoors. There is a great big fucking grey concrete wall in front of me, there’s a roof, and some distance off to the left and right there appear to be corrugated iron walls. I’m also driving on what appears to be a perfectly ordinary — if unmarked — tarmac road.

So what does this tell me? Well, I could maybe be in an aircraft hangar or something like that. Does that help me? Does it give me something I can use? I don’t know.

And then there’s my memory. I seem to have a vague recollection of being half-lifted, half-dragged somewhere. I recall the name George and …Henry? Harry? This would maybe fit with the idea of me having been drugged. I must have really upset someone that I should really have avoided upsetting, I guess.

But there’s no point following that thought — knowing what I did to get into this situation in the first place isn’t going to help me resolve it.

Eight. But wait a minute — I’ve looked around, haven’t I? So I have to have some movement! I can move my eyes certainly, and shift my head a little. Anything else?

I strain to lift my leg of the accelerator but it doesn’t budge. It doesn’t feel like it’s my leg — it doesn’t even feel like it belongs to me, or that I’ve got any nerves in it. It’s attached to me — for the time being, at least — but it’s certainly not doing what I want it to.

Second choice then. If I can’t brake the car, maybe I can steer it away from the wall. Maybe I can at the very least reduce the impact velocity, bounce off the wall side-on? Maybe I can get control of the car properly and just keep it safe until my legs come back…

I just need to be able to move my hands…

They are still locked at ten to two, but my fingertips, my fingertips are fluttering, dancing, drumming on the steering wheel. The movement is sporadic, it’s barely under my control, but it’s there. My fingers are coming back to me. But do I have enough time?

Nine. The wall is closer now, much closer, and I’m trying desperately to tighten my grip on the wheel, to pull my hand down sharply to the left, to make the car veer away from the wall. My fingers tighten ever so slightly around the wheel and I desperately force my hand downwards, praying that I’ll be able to turn the wheel enough.

My hand comes down an inch, but it’s slipping across the surface of the steering wheel which has barely twitched.

Grip, dammit, grip!

Another inch — and this time the wheel wobbles to the left before righting itself; and another. Another inch, but this time my hand is just sliding again; sliding down, down and off the wheel and into my lap.

Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.

Ten. And then I’m overwhelmed by a feeling of peace and serenity. There’s the wall. Here’s me. I’m under a second away from impact, I’ve not got time to turn the wheel, or to jump clear, but I’m calm.

I’m in the car. The car is going to smash into the wall. I am going to smash into the wall too, but that’s perfectly all right, because now I know that’s what’s meant to happen.

And when I say know, I mean I know it with every fibre of my being. My Creator knew this would happen. It was His will. And that’s fine. Kismet, maybe?

Maybe it’s just a case of having the grace to accept the things we can’t change. Who knows?

Eleven. The front of the car crumpled as it decelerated from ninety to nil in a fraction of a second. A figure in the driver’s seat raised his arms in front of his face at the last moment — maybe consciously, maybe they were just thrown up by the impact — and then he smashed through the windscreen and into the wall.

Two men dressed in oil-stained orange overalls appeared from the right hand corner of the hangar and ambled towards the car.

“Good job, Harry?” asked the first.

“Looked okay on the monitors, yeah. Came around about the right time before impact. Boss’ll be pleased with that.” Harry flashed a grin that contrasted sparkling white teeth against grubby overalls. “I still think it’s a bloody waste of money, though.”

“Yeah, I know …” said the first who had by now reached the wreckage and was passing out limbs to his colleague. “But what the boss says goes, right?”

“Uh-huh — Make sure you get all the bits!” Harry frowned, looking at the tangle of wires emerging from the severed head that he had just been handed. “This is going to be an absolute bugger to fix. And what’s the point? I mean, crash test robots, I ask you…”

One Response to “Eleven Seconds”

  1. mark fairlamb responds:

    during the sixth second i thought, “crash test dummy”.
    the presence of camers in the car gave it away for me.
    nice little read though

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