What Approaches by Karen Heuler [horror]

Imprint - Horror Imprint Logo 200wWhat Approaches by Karen Heuler

Hal had a small ranch house with a fairly good-sized garden. A picture window looked out to the garden from the family room, just as another picture window looked out to the street from the living room. When the children were young, he and Jane had been able to watch Troy and Susie running out front, running in the back. The windows always kept them in view. He had so many mental snapshots of the kids, framed by the window.

Anyway.

The short year while Jane died, she’d sat by one window or another, hungry for the sight of her retreating world. He’d sit with her and watch too. They stared at the trees, the bushes, watched the evidence of the wind or the trails of the rain. They were inside, the world was outside. Sitting together like that, no longer needing to speak, it seemed like Jane would never die.

She did, though.

The windows were in his mind a lot of the time. He was aware of them, always looking out to check on the world outside, looking out to see the weather, the traffic, the dogs being walked, the kids running past. His own kids were grown and starting on their own families.

Still.

Hal had retired to nurse Jane through her final illness, and there was little to do now except think and brood. He was at loose ends.

Actually, his conscience was never still.

On the way home from the hospital on the night his wife died, he’d drifted slightly into oncoming traffic. He’d swerved abruptly and the oncoming car swerved, too, losing control and screaming across a lawn and into the corner of a house. Hal had slowed down, pulled over, sobbed, caught his breath, and then he drove on. He went through with it all—the viewing, the funeral, the calls and cards and sympathetic pats—numbly. Half the time, he thought of Jane; half the time, he thought of that car.

He’d seen the papers the next day. Two teenagers had died.

There was nothing he could have done to bring them back. The paper said they’d been drinking. The kids had done it to themselves, his confession would have accomplished nothing, and his wife’s death and his grief locked him into a muted indifference. He had been a responsible person all his life, but at that point there was nothing left.

And yet.

Jane’s funeral was the same day as one of the boys—Eddie. Luckily, not the same funeral parlor or church, but at the cemetery he saw another line of cars, another group of mourners, and his eyes kept looking away from Jane’s casket, until his daughter caught his hand up sympathetically and brought him back.

Almost a year later, and he still wished he could have gone to those kids’ funerals or something. He felt a kind of longing to have acknowledged them. They were so intimately involved with his wife’s death, inseparable from it. As often as he spoke to his wife in his head, he spoke to them, too. Jamie, 19, the driver, and his passenger, Eddie, aged 17. Next-door neighbors. Coming back from a concert.

When it came over him, those regrets, that sense of loss, he would sit down, facing the picture window, his head bowed. He would be sunk for lengths of time, just imagining, just thinking, and then his head would gradually rise and his gaze would travel out the window, finding some kind of solace, or cosmic impartiality, through the glass.

It would soon be the first anniversary of the deaths. He drove by Eddie’s house, and Jamie’s house. The houses ignored him, revealing nothing.

Of course there was also the house the boys had crashed into, which had been restored—even improved—a mere six months later.

It would have disturbed his children to know that he was so morbidly retracing the details of the crash.

Well, yes.

Of course he’d never told them about it. He’d told no one—and he regretted that.

He’d lost weight gradually. Susie was nagging at him to see a doctor.

He was staring out his window to the yard, imagining himself confessing to someone—a police officer, the parents of Jamie and Eddie, his wife, his daughter—when the sunlight glinted off something at the edge of his property among the trees and bushes.

Idly—what else did he have to do?—he went out to the yard and looked for it. Probably a beer can or a broken mirror or glass.

He found nothing.

Later in the day, as he looked out the front widow, he saw another glint, next to the trash cans.

A trick of the sunlight, or of his eyesight.

He made an appointment to get his eyes checked. They were fine. But he was urged to get a physical, in case there were neurological causes for that glint he kept seeing.

After he saw it again—once from his car’s rearview mirror (and of course that one could have been a true glint) and twice out his windows—he saw his doctor, who did routine tests and found nothing wrong.

“Your bloodwork is fine, your pressure is great. You’ve lost weight—how long is it since Jane died?”

“A year,” Hal said. His whole body sagged with the words.

His doctor, who was kind, asked, “How often do you think about her death?”

And Hal answered honestly, “Always.” He bit back an impulse to add, “And the boys I killed, too.”

His doctor gave him the name of a therapist. Hal folded the script carefully and put it in his wallet.

The glint developed.

It turned, gradually, into a shape in the bushes. He could make it out now. It was a piece of polished, curved metal. And it was attached to something.

He drove less often, since his eye was always drifting to a mirror or a window, searching for it. Even when he took the bus to town, he caught it out the window, glittering down an alley, behind a truck.

It gave his heart a sharp stab when he saw it, so he learned to keep his head lowered.

On a rainy, overcast day—he thought it was a safe day—he looked out his back window and his eye automatically went to that area—the glint area.

He understood what it was.

The left front edge of a car, partially obscured by bushes, just peeking through them: the glint was the sunlight striking the chrome fender.

His stomach was chewing at his heart. His fingers shook as he found the slip of paper his doctor had given him. He took the first available appointment with the therapist.

The doctor, a much younger man, probably in his thirties, sat him down and smiled neutrally. “What brings you here?” he asked.

Hal began slowly, recounting his wife’s death. He said that two boys had died that night, too, that he’d seen their car on the way home from the hospital. He was feeling out this doctor; he wasn’t about to tell him everything.

“You’ve joined the two events together,” the doctor said. “It was easier, at first, because it meant this enormous event, the loss of your wife, wasn’t incredible, because other deaths happened. You tried to make it more manageable, make it almost normal. A thing that happens. Death is a thing that happens. How does that sound to you?”

Well, actually, that phrase did make sense to him. It felt right, it felt like it fit his frame of mind. And he relaxed a little, as he sat there. Death was a thing that happened to his wife, to those boys. He took a moment to think.

“It couldn’t be avoided?” he asked.

“It wasn’t up to you. There was nothing you could do,” the doctor assured him. “Why do you think you could have done something when the doctors couldn’t?”

He didn’t tell him about the glint. He made another appointment. He walked away with a greater assurance that he had not caused anything, that events had unfurled with their own logic and their own inevitability.

The car crash was a thing that had happened to the boys.

He looked out his window, thinking the glint would be gone, but in fact, the car was more visible now. He could see the headlight on that side now, the shadow of the rest of the car behind it, a shadow that was beginning to take form.

He told the doctor that he had a recurring dream about a car coming towards him, slowly. The doctor said that it was a reflection of his grief about his wife, that the car was the representation of the end approaching, that it was all unresolved issues. He gave him a prescription for an anti-anxiety drug, which Hal took, dutifully, because by now his hands often shook and his mouth was always dry.

The car was moving steadily towards him.

He lowered the shades and got curtains, which he kept closed—or tried to keep them closed. He was irresistibly drawn to take a look out the window to see how close the car was.

To see who the driver was.

He told the doctor the car was coming closer, and he was assured that there was no car, that there was some unresolved matter that he needed to process, and he should come oftener.

But Hal knew that he would never tell him the truth about the boys’ deaths. He had thought about it and at one point he was just about to—but he didn’t. He tried to tell his daughter, and he couldn’t; he didn’t even try to tell his son, who had suggested he develop a hobby.

He went out to a local bar (and by now the car was fully visible, down every street, in every store, out every window) and drank firmly for two hours, trying to tell the bartender. He began finally, by saying, “I killed someone,” but the bartender drew back a little and looked at him sideways, so he faltered and said he’d lost his wife, and the bartender nodded, refilled his drink, and avoided his eye.

The car coming for him was his own car, of course.

And behind the windshield was his own face, still in shadow, staring right at him.

He was getting used to it, in a way; it didn’t startle him. But he rarely ate, he barely slept, his daughter complained about the way he looked when she saw him. It had been two months (she was pregnant and busy), and she’d had to sit down, her mouth open, until she could straighten herself out and ask what was wrong.

“It’s the kids,” he said. “No, it’s the car.”

Which didn’t make any sense to her. She found out he was on medication, and nodded to herself. “Stop the pills. They’re not doing you any good, are they?”

He had to admit they weren’t.

“And they have side effects. You look terrible. It’s probably the side effects.”

He agreed to stop. It was a relief to stop.

He didn’t stop only that, however; he stopped everything in his life.

He ceased to go out. He kept the curtains drawn. He called a grocery store for a delivery once a week, and he began to call the liquor store for deliveries as well. He had never been a heavy drinker, but there was no reason not to be.

He watched television for a while, but then he began to see a reflection of the car in the upper left-hand edge of the screen. The car was always in the same angle towards him.

The angle the boys’ car had followed when it hit the house?

That hadn’t been his car that hit the house, of course, but it didn’t matter, there was no logic in it. The car was coming for him, relentlessly, and there was an eerie, horrible fascination that caused him to lift a corner of the curtain and look out the window to see how close it was. At first he had dropped it quickly, but he was unsatisfied—what was the look on the driver’s face—his face? Was he looking straight at himself? Where would the car hit? Had it left marks on the earth where it had already traveled?

It left no marks; the driver was looking straight at him; it was heading for him, wherever he stood, at whatever window.

He could see the grille now; he could see his own horrified expression; he could see a leaf caught in the wipers, he could see the collar of his shirt, he could see….

He couldn’t look anymore. He called his daughter and kept her on the phone, asking about her pregnancy. She was pleased to talk about it.

He put down the phone and noticed a crack in the wall, to the left of the picture window. And within two days, it was a bulge. Then he saw another bulge at the other window, at each window, a bulge that got bigger each day, until the plaster began to break and all around it. Wherever he looked, the walls were pushed in by the unrelenting front bumper of the car.

Why? Why?

His bell rang and he hurried, careful to avoid all the intruding bumps in his living room, debating whether to open the door—who knew, really? But a car wouldn’t ring a bell! He had covered up the little glass window on the front door long ago—was that a small bump, a miniature bump beside the little glass window?—he pulled open the door with a start—and it was his weekly food delivery. His fingers trembled as he searched his pockets for a tip, looking furtively over the delivery boy’s shoulder to the street, where cars moved slowly, turning towards him slowly, then (seeing the boy), turning away. To come back later, he assumed.

He took the box to the kitchen and placed it next to last week’s box on the floor. It wouldn’t lie flat; it was on a bump coming up from the floor. He stood still, frozen, and looked around: bumps everywhere, coming up from the floor and down from the ceiling, pressing in next to every window, every door.

They were so close.

And he made his decision. He took his car keys out of the cup, squeezed past each bump in the wall and went out to the garage. Cars all around him, all of them with him in the driver’s seat, his face astonished, his face grief-stricken, his face horrified or guilt-ridden or frozen solid by too many emotions. Cars converging from down the street, around the corner, from his own yard, cars he had to climb over to get to the garage, where his own, real car sat, with no one in the driver’s seat. He squeezed past the bumps of cars imploding into the garage walls, managed to open the door and sit inside his car and start it.

In the rearview mirror, he saw all the other cars inch towards him. Not a motion he could actually see, but when he looked, they were closer.

He put his car in reverse and drove until he reached the car behind him and banged it.

He put it in first and drove forward and hit the fender of the car coming through the rear wall of the garage. He went back; he went forward. He stepped harder on the gas, back and forth.

He began to hear the cars denting; he heard their headlights crashing. It made his heart lift. He hit the pedal harder, smashing behind him, smashing before him. Let them come in from the sides! He would get them, too!

Back and forth, back and forth, the cars began to give, they began to shake when they were struck, they began to make creaking noises, harsh sounds, exasperated moans, loud protestations, sounds that came from the cars but also, he thought, from his heart. This was a great thing, this wrecking, this protest. He could feel himself lift up a little, get lighter a little.

He pressed the gas down to the floor. He smashed hard into the car that was breaking through the back wall of the garage. And went through it, as if it weren’t there, and hit the wall at just the proper angle to bring it down, all down, all on him, the weight of it all, on him, with a last great relief, as if a car had fallen from the sky and finally settled.

With a final breath, he turned his head and saw his sideview mirror rammed into his shoulder. He looked slowly, his sight fading.

In the mirror, there was nothing.

At last.

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©2016 the author — Published electronically at DigitalFictionPub.com. You may link to or share this post with full and proper attribution; however, the author retains the complete and unrestricted copyright to this work. Commercial use or distribution of any kind is prohibited without the express written permission of the author.

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