I've always had a fascination with looking into bright lights. On the playground, I used to dare other kids to stare at the sun as long as I could. When I got a bit older, I used to bet on it. I'd walk away with a vision full of dark spots and pockets full of coins. My mother used to beat me with a slipper or a belt when she caught me staring unblinkingly at the sky or sitting inches away from a bare light bulb.
Not surprisingly, I developed poor eyesight and became sensitive to harsh lights, but for some morbid reason I still found myself staring until the spots appeared and then watched gleefully as they danced around my vision.
Years later, and with more self-control, I can now walk past a lamp without staring into it, or look up at a street sign without giving in to temptation and glancing at the sun. One night, my girlfriend and I were talking about the weird stuff we used to do as children and naturally I brought it up.
She laughed and I laughed and for the months that followed it became a regular running joke. She pretended to plan trips to famous lighthouses and bought three copies of the movie Sunshine and placed them atop my DVD stand.
One night, when I was driving us home after our weekly date night, driving down a long and dark road which never got the go-ahead for a second lane that it desperately needed. There was a wagon in the oncoming lane, with its headlights right at eye level, travelling towards us around 50 meters down the road. A black figure ran out ahead, illuminated by both our lights, he crossed my lane and stopped in the middle of the oncoming trucks path. The driver honked his horn, filling the silent and empty road with its fog-horn like bellows and flashed his high-beams that engulfed the figure in an attempt to make him flee.
I couldn't have looked away if I tried, my girlfriend and I were instantly blinded as we passed mere meters away as the ridiculous beams tore at our retinas. Like I said, the road was empty and I managed to keep control of the car and pull over without incident. I had instinctively thrown a protective arm across my girlfriend and we both sat in the darkness, breathing heavily and blinking away the pain.
Once our visions had returned, I looked in the mirror to see the wagon stopped in the middle of the road with it's lights on and engine still stuttering away. I had temporarily forgotten about the man running to cross the road, but the heavy realization began to settle in and I felt my skin grow cold. I turned off the ignition and unbuckled my seatbelt.
My girlfriend grabbed my arm and asked me where I was going. I told her to stay put while I checked that everyone was ok. She didn't want to be left alone, and said that she wanted to come with me. I advised her that she may not like what we see, but she insisted. Her hands were shaking and the couple of drinks she had with our meal did nothing to calm her nerves.
We got out and locked the car, stepping into the cool air of the October night and quickly crossed the street, pointlessly scanning up and down the empty road like school children before setting one foot off the curb. I saw it first, and buried her face into my chest and held on to her, walking her backwards as we passed the start of the gruesome scene.
She went stiff and complained and struggled against my hold, but I didn't let her go. I stared at the tattered remains of flesh hanging from a glistening bone, jutting out of a laced-up boot like a prop from CSI. It stood upright, facing us, as if to ask if we'd seen the rest of his body that it had innocently misplaced. The street-lights reflected light off the bloody tire track of the giant front right wheel of the truck. It snaked from the lone-standing boot to the abandoned vehicle, pieces of flesh and torn items of clothing strewn about as if passed through a blender.
The smell reached my nostrils. It was a putrid mix of burnt rubber and copper. I lead my girlfriend around the gore covered path before reaching the cab. Her hands were tiny white fists entwined in my shirt, which had become wet with tears and sweat. The door to the driver's seat was open and the monotone voice of a bored DJ could be heard over the rumble of the powerful engine. The driver was nowhere to be seen.
I looked around, no other car had passed on this usually busy length of road and nothing but dense bushes and trees stretched on as far as I could see. I pictured the driver, a fat middle-aged man tripping over his shoddy boots and spoiled jeans as he blubbered his way through the branches.
I placed a hand on the back of her head and told her that I had to phone the police. My voice cracked and I realised that I was crying. It took several seconds to collect myself before calling. The operator sounded as bored and disinterested as the DJ, and I told her where I was and what had happened through painful sobs that made me cling to my girlfriend as much as she clung to me.
They put me on hold. I looked up into the headlights of the wagon, the right light partially painted red with wild strokes. I found myself lost within the white and crimson light. The edges of my vision darkened. The voice of the operator returned and snapped my attention away from the lights. She assured me that help was on its way and to remain where I was if it was safe to do so, I watched as the dark spots slid silently from focus. As I hung up, the spots moved and joined until they created a shape almost human.
My girlfriend screamed. I blinked away the spots and followed her line of sight. The man's skull had been ripped off and crushed between the tire and the wheel trim. His face was hanging loose, his eyes now dark, bloody holes and his thick black mess of a beard dripping with teeth and gore. I stood between her and the truck and pulled her in so close that my ribs hurt. She shuddered in my arms, and we both cried as the sirens grew nearer.
Two Months Later.
I came home from work exhausted, frustrated, near tears and starving. I opened the empty cupboards and fridge to remind myself that they were indeed empty. She did the shopping. Used to do the shopping. She wasn't here any more.
I collapsed onto the sofa and stared at the half bare bookcase, the half empty DVD rack, the three copies of Sunshine, and sighed. The boxes were in the corner of the room. Everything I thought she'd want, everything she bought or made. Everything was neatly sealed, apart from the two lampshades that wouldn't fit inside the last box.
The table over my shoulder now supported a thick black pole with a bare, white bulb atop it like a hideous and oversized candle. I could see it in the mirror on the wall, and as my body relaxed my eyes were unable to move from it's reflection.
My life had become numb since the accident. After losing her job, my girlfriend was diagnosed with depression and some sort of PTSD. They filled her full of pills that had her sleeping for eighteen hours a day. Money became tight, and my performance at work got worse. We argued when she was awake, and I sulked and stressed when she was asleep. After a month I decided that she needed to go to her mothers if we had any chance of rebuilding our relationship. She went after two days of fighting. Two weeks later we decided to call it off permanently.
My eyes pleasantly stung as I watched the swallowing darkness reach a thousand tiny tendrils into my vision. The dark spots returned when I could no longer bare to look and I blinked happily and chased the shapes away by focusing on them. They swam and overlapped and mingled before once again coming together at the edge of my peripheries. I attempted to look without focusing, to let the shapes transform without disturbing them. Three dark patches appeared towards the top of the merging mass, two dark circles above a third, messy-
My phone buzzed, the dark spots disintegrated as I pulled the vibrating interruption from my pocket. It was a text from her Mother, she wanted to pick up her things. A sad smile crossed my lips. Progress. They had been boxed up for a week. I replied and pulled myself from the sofa. A momentary glance into the mirror showed an unshaven, uncombed man. It wasn't until I had stepped away that I thought I saw a second, but I was tired, and my eyes stung.
I had drove the ten minutes to her Mother's and we were now silently driving the return journey. I had thought about avoiding that road, taking the long way round and saving her the literal trip down memory lane. The clock flashed 10:25 and I still hadn't eaten. I sighed and turned onto the road, out of the corner of my eye I saw her tighten up and sink into the chair. I put my foot down.
The road was relatively busy, and was practically a traffic jam compared to that night, and car after car passed us and disappeared into the night. Lights passed rhythmically and I settled into the silence of the drive.
“James.” She said, her voice now a ghost of the bubbly, kind girl that once said that name with such love.
“Yeah?” I answered, looking at her and then back on the road. This was the first time she spoken to me in days.
“Do you still stare at lights?” She asked, disinterested.
I paused. Images of the merging black shapes flashed across my memory.
“Sometimes.” I answered cautiously.
The car fell silent for a few moments. I tried to ignore how uncomfortable we were together, and how sad that made me. Finally she spoke again.
“Do you stare at headlights when you're driving?” She asked, her head turned towards me and her body still pressed back into the seat. Her usual drug filled and glassy eyes now shone wickedly.
I didn't answer, and she didn't seem to expect an answer. She turned back to face the road and relaxed. I couldn't see her properly, but I swore she was actually smiling.
The car got incredibly uncomfortable, the air thickened and I found myself aware of my breathing. We were stopped at a red light. The headlights of the car stopped opposite pleaded for my attention and I found myself physically struggling to look anywhere else. The car behind me honked impatiently and I found myself holding up a handful of cars on a green light. I set off gingerly.
With every passing car I found myself drawn into the headlights, the dark shapes of the road ahead became harder and harder to tell apart. The oncoming traffic came in a merciless parade of dazzling lights that teased at different heights and bore down into my sockets. I caught myself drifting slightly into the centre of the lanes and corrected myself with an overcompensating lurch that made the car behind back off.
I was sweating, screaming inside my head to get a hold of myself and regain control. Even more cars passed, too many for this time of night, all laughing and plotting with the grinning she-devil besides me. The black shapes now dominated my view of the road ahead. I flicked on the indicator and began to slow down before turning the wheel towards the side of the road.
“No...” She whispered, and placed a small, white hand upon the steering wheel and turned the car back into the road. I fought against her, trying to ease the car off the road whilst she effortlessly kept the car in the centre of the lane, regardless of my protest.
The car behind honked once again, then flashed its high beams to really get my attention. The rear-view mirror exploded in a brilliant light and my eyes snapped to it like a compass pointing north. Amidst the glare, the road now a blurred backdrop, the shapes began to mould themselves into an increasingly familiar form.
I took my foot from the pedal. If I couldn't pull over I could at least stop. The car jolted from the deceleration and the car behind once again honked and flashed and swerved in attempt to pass. The sound of metal crunching metal filled the car as we were jerked forward and the seat belt slammed into my collar bone. The car behind had rammed us. I instinctively levelled my foot upon the pedal and the engine screamed as we accelerated in the wrong gear. The flashing never stopped.
The shape was now a full human figure, with two impossibly black holes in it's ashen skull where the eyes should be. The unkempt beard, littered with bloody teeth and pieces of dirt speckled flesh moved up and down around a laughing, bottomless mouth on an unhinged jaw.
We fought over control of the wheel, I couldn't see anything but the manic, silent laugh of the dark disembodied head as it crept into the centre of my vision.
I squeezed my eyes closed to try and clear my view. I opened them, tears streaming down my cheeks and turned to her, pleading. I saw my once beautiful girlfriend, her once gorgeous dark hair layered in grease, her once loving hands clutching my shirt like on that night.
Her face was inches from mine, her eyes soulless black holes, her mouth spilling blood and broken teeth as she smiled a wide, dark smile.
“Goodbye, James.” She gurgled around oozing red bile.
She released the wheel, and the car lurched off the road.