*

CRASH BARRIER

“There is only one way to be born but many ways to die,” thought Gary, in a rare moment of reflection. But that was not what he said.

He was talking to his girl friend on a mobile phone as he and the car sped along the enormous M25 ring motorway, one hand on the wheel. The wheels were a weapon as well as a means to an end. He was already late for the important business meeting – so he floored the gas-pedal.

Through a quirk of hindsight, he now knew that what he had said into the phone had been translated by his own ears as something quite different to the actual words formed by his lips – with meanings like cough drops upon his tongue.

He glanced into the rear-view mirror beyond his own ice-blue eyes … and just at that precise moment, a previously camouflaged vehicle sprouted a blue pulse upon its roof. The sudden siren blotted out the reply to whatever words were heard at the other end of the phone-line, if mobiles indeed had such lines which, presumably, they didn’t.

.
Inside the pursuing “police” car, there were no policemen. Whoever they were, the driver and passengers were hidden to the world by black reflective glass.

The driver, who was suited black, drooled over the wheel as his hand stirred the gear-stick in what seemed like porridge. The two shapes in the backseat remained – at least for the time being – shapes.

“Get it?” hissed the driver: hissing being a remarkable feat, perhaps, because there was no potential sibilance in the words he used. He wrapped them in spit: a sweet, treacly meaning swaddled in saliva.

One of the shapes nodded – a nod that was noted by the driver in the rearview mirror. The other shape spoke, but this shape’s words were so dissimilar to an articulation of tongue, lips and teeth that they remained inaudible to most ears.

Buoyed along by the shuddering blue, the protruding wing-mirrors of the “police” car reflected nothing but the smears of speed. The eyes up front needed very little sight to be able to drive: weaving between the cringing motorway traffic, as if the other cars were mere belief-systems whereby the “police” car was simply an icon of everybody else’s crazy religion.

“We’ve locked on to the person at the other end of Gary’s phone,” were words washed by the driver’s sodden tongue.

“….” said one of the backseat shapes. He said it out loud. The first time ever in the history of pregnant pauses.

Gary’s girl friend, it seemed, would be receiving a visit before long from that very shape.

.
Gary drove towards his own meeting in a slightly less dark quadrant of the motorway. He wondered if even boy friends and girl friends were complete strangers to each other. If the truth were known, everyone was probably disguised as somebody (or something) else. Or vice versa. Thoughts he thus thought without thinking.

.
The “police” car – siren doused – drew up at some City flats. Only one of the backseat shapes got out, then shadowed itself to the front entrance.

It pushed a chosen button and waited for the door intercom to break into words.

“Yes?”

The word was crackly with electric power.

“Gary sent me.”

Having homed in by means of Gary’s earlier call on the mobile, the shape had also read many other things from the concertina conversations on the oral exchanges – past and future as well as present. And all this was happening in the early nineties before the Internet had really got going as a force to reckon with.

Meanwhile, the “police” car had slid away silently into the back-doubles and rat-runs of tohe City, slick driver and spare shape in the backseat both. Their job – presumably – had been accomplished in the very act of delivery. They sought another slipway back on to the M25.

Gary switched on the radio in his car, which – if it had been the dead of night at home – would have woken the neighbours with rhythmic thuds. On the motorway, however, the sounds blended with a Machine-called-traffic and with the incessant whine of tyres upon carriageway crust.

He hummed along in transverse logic to the beat, tapping his fingertips on the wheel which they lightly steered, while his feet pumped up the volume.

Frequently, he took his eyes off the road and gazed at the mobile phone in its socket – primed, as such contraptions were, to set motives in motion at the slightest word.

He grinned. Power was in his fingers. Power was in his feet. Power was in his tongue, too.

.
The door opened as the intercom buzzed excitedly to the remote control of Gary’s girl friend from five floors up.

The shape shook off sooty snow and, without a glance, entered the huge hallway. The shape’s side was raw from untwining itself from the other backseat shape now being driven, no doubt, to another, perhaps darker, part of the traffic-ringed City. Yet, at night, everywhere, in reality, was equally dark, whatever the wattage.

The shape chose a different finger on his hand to push the lift-call button. And a third to push the floor-number button once it was within the up-plunging lift.

No finger was required, however, to leave the lift through the automatic sliding open of the doors. And, there, in front of the shape, was the wood in the space behind which Gary’s girl friend lived.

.
Gary himself was gutted.

The Machine-called-traffic had ground to a skid-marked halt.

Everything fretted and fumed.

Including Gary.

He’d be late for his important meeting.

Probably a pile-up ahead or something.

Perhaps the biggest shunt known to man, machine or beast.

He looked lingeringly at the mobile phone and wished himself inside it.

He laughed.

Better than crying.

.
“Gary sent me,” the shape said with a large humbug swallow.

“I know,” said the blonde woman in high heels, tight dress and homely smile. Pretty, yet ordinary. Big blue eyes, yet someone with the look that thought she knew there were prettier people than her.

Whether or not she was hypnotised, she beckoned the shape to enter her flat. Trust was the most powerful emotion that any two beings could share.

.
And a tail-back on the M25 was also something that any number of beings could share – a Worm Ouroboros of road rage.

Gary was no exception.

He felt the need to abandon the metal of his outer casing and make the rest of the way on feet.

He turned to his side and saw a vehicle beside him with black windows. It looked remarkably like the erstwhile police car that had appeared in his rearview mirror by virtue of a blue pulse on its roof.

Gary stared at his own reflection in a variety of side-mirrors and windows, including the black shiny ones in the neighbouring lane. He gently teeth-gripped his tongue and felt sure that it was furred up with words he hadn’t spoken.

That was how the tail-back had affected him. He was speechless with emotion.

.
Five floors up, Gary’s girl friend was conversing with the shape she had taken for a person she knew well. She did not dream that the ether had become infected with some viral force that could live outside of any communication system.

“I am pleased you could come,” she said, moving a blonde sprig from her bright eyes that sparkled with an unbroken mass of teardrops. “You are a vampire?” she then asked after a pregnant pause.

“Yes.”

The shape took on a sympathetic cast while it put a hand on her shoulder … as if the steadying of a body’s shaking was tantamount to steadying the emotion that caused such shaking.

“But you look so ordinary … so kind.”

“Vampires are the kindest creatures in the world,” it answered.

The shape’s face seemed fleetingly bewildered as if it were at a loss for words, waiting for one to spring to its lips like a regurgitation.

“But you suck blood, don’t you?” she posed.

Her innocence was not buoyed by hypnotism but by a deeper trust that tied the soul, socket to socket, as it was, with the other soul. A direct current. Person to person across the universe of non-existence. So much better than an eye to eye remote control.

“We love the one whose blood we suck.”

.
Gary picked up his mobile at last. He was determined to discover how long the jam was likely to last and what had caused it. Until now, for at least an hour, he had been restrained from this by some deterrent force he couldn’t fathom … as if he’d discover the world had ended. The longer news like that was postponed the better.

He had earlier madly twiddled with the radio tuner but could only reach stations with endless dirge-like music or loud rhythmic thuds with melted mutter between each set of thuds.

.
Gary’s girl friend thought the shape seemed as if it had her best interests at heart.

“Can I…?” began the shape.

“Can you kiss my neck? Of course, you can.”

“Can I…?”

“Fondle me? You will probably fondle me more tenderly than anyone has ever done.”

“Can I…?”

“Drink my blood? That’s something I’ve never had done to me. I never let anyone near me at certain times. But you can, because I’m sure you’ll do it thoughtfully.”

Nobody said it, but it is true that blood that is supped through punctures deliberately made for that very purpose is much more natural, in a paradoxical way, than through natural orifices.

“When you’ve drunk my blood, you may do whatever else you need.”

“I need nothing else. I’m more gentle than most of my kind. You see I do not invade what should be private areas, even if invited.”

“The thought of such unutterable kindness is sufficient to give me pleasure without the necessity of penetration.” Those were not her exact words, but the words she might have wished to say given her ability to do so.

That falsely-named human penetration was not, in the end, what either had in mind.

All bodies were covered with a single stocking-membrane or hymen of skin.

And the shapes were two enfolding shadows, prickly shadows that inter-penetrated towards each other’s soul via every pore at once.

.
Gary pushed numbers on the mobile…

There sounded a roar of black noise as darkness slicked his windscreen, side windows and various mirrors with encroaching continents of oily blackness that gradually silted into translucency with a redness that was eventually further engorged by the horizon’s distant convergence of hard-shoulder edges and the setting sun’s central reservation of the human soul.

He was marooned on the M25. He uselessly floored the gas-pedal, his mouth pregnant with pause and his brain socket to socket with a spent mobile: the one he was trapped inside.

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