What just happened?
His eyes shot wide open at the strange sensation and he looked around as he tried to pull his mind back to something resembling an alert state. Remaining leaning against the side of the car, Gerard gathered his wits. It took only a moment to remember where he was, but glancing out of the window, he frowned as he stared at dilapidated streets. Burned out cars littered the road, there didn’t appear to be a single window in any of the buildings that remained unbroken and an abundance of waste paper swirled in the wind.
“Ben!” he called, distressed at what he saw. “Where are…”
Looking forward, Gerard gasped in dismay as he saw his driver slumped over the wheel, bleeding from a large gash in his forehead, yet somehow the car was still moving in a straight line along the road.
“Ben!” he yelled, unable to take in the scene that had presented itself.
Looking further ahead, Gerard paled as he noticed a sharp bend in the road only a few hundred yards away. Pushing himself from the seat, he leaned forward and pulled Ben back away from the wheel, pausing momentarily with horror as he noticed how pale he was. It didn’t take much consideration to recognise that Ben was dead, but, with no other obvious wound than a gashed forehead, Gerard was at a loss to understand how. With the rapidly approaching turn in the road, it was a luxury that he could not afford himself. About to push himself through the gap between seats to get to the front, Gerard was suddenly thrown back as the car lurched forward, gaining speed with each passing second. Gerard looked up from where he had been thrown to see the bend now imminent. This was it. Convinced he was about to die, Gerard closed his eyes; instinct driving him to cling on to whatever he could in an attempt to avoid or, at best, limit injury.
“No need for you to worry, Gerard, I won’t let you die. I need you to survive.”
Opening his eyes wide as he heard the same voice that had spoken to him in the alley. Again, there was nothing and no one nearby. Gerard’s heart raced as the sound of the car going into a spin filled his ears, before it ground to a shuddering abrupt halt and everything went black.
“Is he okay?”
“Has anyone called 911?”
“Yeah, the ambulance is on its way.”
“Is he awake?”
“Are you okay, son?”
Gerard gazed up blankly at the people stood around him. He was on the floor, lying in the road about ten feet from the car; cold, shocked, disorientated but, as far as he could tell, basically unhurt.
“What… I…” he began, his head spinning and unsure what to ask first. “Ben?” he finally managed.
“Who’s Ben?” one of the bystanders asked.
“Must be the driver,” another commented.
“Yeah,” Gerard nodded stiffly as he came to fully. “How is he?”
“You just rest, son. Don’t worry about him.”
Gerard’s brow furrowed at the words and he pulled his arms back to push himself upright only to be frustrated as strong hands pushed him back down.
“You have to rest, the ambulance is on its way. You could be hurt.”
“I’m not!” he replied, exasperated. “What’s going on? Where’s Ben?”
Scrambling backwards a few feet, beyond reach of restraining hands, Gerard pushed himself to his feet. Turning to look inside the car, Gerard lost his balance and staggered back a few paces as he found himself profoundly disturbed by the sight before him.
“Don’t look!” an older man physically turned him away from the car.
“H…how…” Gerard stammered as he turned his head back, horrified but unable to look away.
Inside the car, Ben still sat at the wheel. Every drop of colour was absent from his features. His skin was pure white, almost translucent. But, he noticed with considerable unease, it was not just his skin; his veins, lips, eyes, hair, everything, merely shades of black white and grey. Gerard thought back to the vampire movies he loved. When the victim was found, they were pale certainly, but it was clear that they had once lived. Ben’s deathly pallor was unlike anything he had ever seen – real or fiction. It was simply impossible.
“What happened?” Gerard finally managed. “Did you see? I think I was asleep in the car. I was dreaming…”
Now looking around, Gerard saw that the skyline was as it should be; no derelict buildings, no wasteland. But he had heard that voice, hadn’t he? Had he? Had that been a dream too? But they had crashed. Gerard put his hand to his head, confused by what was happening and his inability to separate dream from reality. Dropping his head, he began to snatch his breaths, unaware in his distress that the ambulance had pulled up nearby. Taking short but deep and frequent gasps of air, Gerard staggered again, only to be caught by a paramedic.
“Hey!” the paramedic took hold of his shoulders. “Let’s get you lying down and get you some oxygen.”
“I’m fine.” Gerard argued unconvincingly, his voice dropping almost to a whisper as he started to truly take in what had happened.
Ignoring his protests, the paramedic pushed him down until finally he was seated on a gurney.
“What happened to Ben?” Gerard asked, pushing the oxygen mask away.
“Leave that mask on and lie down, we need to get you to the hospital.”
“I’m fine.” Gerard protested before continuing with uncertainty. “But… Ben…?”
A second paramedic shook his head slowly as the man standing beside Gerard glanced in his direction.
“Just take it easy and we’ll get you to the hospital.”
“He’s dead, isn’t he?” Gerard asked. “I know he is. You can tell me.”
“Let’s just get you to hospital.
Suddenly exhausted by the shock, Gerard gave in and flopped his head back on the pillow; there was no way they were going to let him do otherwise. Turning his head, he frowned with distaste at the now large crowd of onlookers gazing at Ben’s lifeless and curiously pale body with morbid fascination. To the far left of the crowd, he saw something, or someone; so faint and somehow transparent, it was hard to tell exactly what it was. The figure grinned as Gerard noticed him and in that moment he became certain it was the same figure that he had seen twice before. Now the figure was clearer and actually visible to the eye, rather than just a glimpse of movement. As his eyes widened in surprise, straps were pulled across his arms and legs, securing him to the gurney.
“It’s him!” he shouted, trying to sit up, to no avail.
Bending his arm, he tried to loosen the straps, but even as his hands reached the clasps, the paramedics pulled them away.
“No!” Gerard glanced up. “You don’t understand.”
“Sedate him,” one of them advised.
“What?” Gerard shook his head vigorously. “No. It’s him. Can’t you see…?”
Glancing back to where he had spotted the figure, Gerard stopped dead as the space was once more vacant.
“They can’t see me!” A voice echoed near Gerard’s ear. “Only you can see me. Don’t you recognise me? You invented me.”
Turning his head sharply, Gerard saw that the figure was now at his shoulder. Gasping in shock, then in pain and distress as a syringe was forced into his arm.
“That should do it.”
Gerard turned distressed eyes toward the paramedic. At his side was a homicidal character of his own making that only he could see. Was he going mad?
“Don’t knock me out,” he pleaded.
The paramedic shook his head as he noticed the drug begin to take effect.
“Too late for that.”
Ray looked up from his guitar. He had been working on a solo for the past two hours; it was almost there. Not quite finished, he frowned in annoyance as the phone rang, breaking his concentration. Screwing his eyes up, he sighed deeply before resting his guitar down on its stand.
Picking up his cell phone, he glanced briefly at the name.
“Frank, hi,” he spoke without enthusiasm.
“Gerard’s in the hospital, Mikey’s already there,” Frank blurted.
“What happened?” Ray replied quickly, utterly stunned.
“I’ll pick you up and tell you. That okay?”
“Sure!” Ray gasped with surprise at the news.
“I’ll see you in thirty minutes.”
“Frank!” Ray called before Frank had time to replace the handset. “What about Bob?”
“Not been able to get him yet, I'll keep trying” Frank replied.
“No, I'll keep trying,” Ray replied, still shaken by the news. “You just get here.”
“Okay, but don’t worry,” Frank replied, reassuring himself as much as Ray, “I'm sure Gee’ll be okay.”