Speeder: a short storyPosted on: 13/01/2018, by : Nick Hansen
Imagine the near future where ‘old world’ progress, our greatest advancements and social norms, are needlessly criminalised. Hypocrisy and fear define society, governed by a new regime as we regress and suffer together, seemingly powerless to effect change.
These concepts inspired Speeder, a short story about the herd mentality and injustice. Although laced with dark humour, this is a dramatic meditation on what it means to be human and our collective relationship with authority.
And we are honoured that Nick has allowed us to publish this important work exclusively on his website.
Open your mind and read on.
I almost smiled as I gazed through my office window at the drinkers on Bar Metropole’s packed terrace. Simmering beneath white parasols, their banter brought life to the otherwise deserted boulevard. It might have been nice to join them, but I knew that was no longer possible.
Even though it was Sunday, I was increasingly reconciled to the stricter energy rationing that had forced my working practices to change. I had explained this in detail to my dear wife on many occasions, but she was yet to accept the currently fashionable ideologies. Naturally, I did not enjoy working seven days a week to accommodate the latest rules. However, I knew that in time a different entity would rise to prominence and declare those rules as false. The only true source of concern, therefore, was how long that wait would be and whether, when change inevitably arrived, the new rules would be even harsher.
In the meantime, my problem is that I need light for my work as an architect. By this I mean steady illumination such as on a sunny day like today, rather than the unreliable flicker of a candle. I experimented in the early days, hoping to preserve my old routines, but even a roomful of candles had proven to be unsuitable for my professional requirements. In fact, notwithstanding the growing body of expert opinion to the contrary, a flame’s constant motion always leaves me feeling nauseous and bad-tempered.
As I reflected on the fact that my boys now stayed in bed rather than wave me off with a kiss each morning, I was distracted by an unmistakable sound. I hopped from my seat, throwing open the great sash window for a better view over the plane trees. I quickly spotted it. A red car crawling along one of the four empty lanes. Its pace was so slow that I had plenty of time to find my binoculars. On full zoom I could make out the driver’s silver moustache, and it looked like his wife and child were laughing in the back.
I glanced away from the car only because I heard shouting. Down at Bar Metropole a man had erupted from the gents, pursued by a flame-haired female. She tottered on skyscraper heels, tugging the hem of her Lycra micro skirt as he blundered across the terrace, barrel glasses and cider bottles smashing on the concrete. He glanced over his shoulder and raised his arms in a pleading gesture before he stumbled and face-planted the pavement. I twisted my binoculars and saw tears of rage striping black mascara across the girl’s cheeks, her breasts barely contained by a mesh bustier as she charged at him. He was in the foetal position when she bore down, windmilling her tiny fists at the back of his head.
Despite the commotion I hadn’t forgotten about the car. It was much closer and I imagined its occupants listening to a play on the radio, perhaps on the way to a restaurant or the theatre; such a contrast to the uncoordinated violence playing out on the pavement.
The protagonists were now wrestling as some drinkers pointed and laughed behind their hands. The girl held the advantage, straddling the man as she tried to apply a chokehold. Her skirt rode up over her hips and her naked behind was large in my lenses until she changed tactics, now yanking at his ponytail with all her strength. It was an undignified sight, the pitiful man thrashing insanely until he stunned the girl with his heel and scrambled to his feet.
The car was almost directly below me when he rushed the girl with a Kung Fu scissor kick, probably intended as a final, desperate move to end the conflict. But the girl was a formidable opponent and neatly sidestepped his assault. His momentum was such that a light shove in the back was all it took to hurl him into the road.
I leant out of the window as far as I dared but the point of impact was hidden by the trees. The girl’s screams and yelping tyres left me fearing the worst. I buttoned my shirt and ran from my office. By the time I reached them the man was face down on the road like a cadaver. The drinkers were quickly on the scene in large numbers. They probably wanted to help, but the girl was pushing them away and hissing for all she was worth.
‘She’s in shock! Look how she fights us. Come now dear, let us comfort you,’ said a tall gentlemen in a silk waistcoat. He tried again to embrace the girl, but she misinterpreted this kindness and clawed at this face.
‘Have you sent the boy?’ shouted a male voice. ‘We need to get the police here now, I don’t know how long I can restrain him!’
I fought through the swelling crowd and saw the driver with his head pushed against the bonnet of his car, his arm pulled high up his back by a man called Simon. Although this was deeply upsetting I was more concerned about the injured man lying a few feet away in a heap of bones and rags. I was about to attend to him when there was a cheer as the driver’s wife was dragged from the car.
‘Tell Sophia to lock the door!’ cried the driver.
His wife tried climbing back in but she was hauled out with such force that her spectacles flew from her face.
‘Search her! She might be armed!’
A huge brute stepped forward claiming to have a military background. Simon pushed a sock into the driver’s mouth to silence him as the military man advised that a full strip search was the safest way to avoid a potential massacre. The tall gentleman nodded ascent, and within seconds the military man had removed her tweed jacket and blouse, and her pretty floral skirt was round her ankles. Once her underwear had been torn off I noticed that her pale skin seemed ablaze under the fierce sunlight. Her breasts hung almost to her hips and were the first area to be targeted as the search began in earnest.
‘But I wasn’t even going fast,’ said the driver who had managed to spit out the sock. ‘The man came from nowhere!’
‘Not going fast? It was like you had murder on your mind,’ said the tall gentleman. ‘I saw the whole thing and as the Lord is my witness, you sir were going well over twenty.’
The crowd roared with horror.
‘For the love of God what were you thinking!’
I was about to intervene when the girl made a run for it.
‘Grab her, she’s grief stricken. Please, the police must comfort her, give her a hot meal,’ declared the tall gentleman.
Happy to oblige, the military man gave chase and soon returned with the girl who was red-faced and crying uncontrollably.
‘Look, they’ve named this little one Divine,’ said the tall gentleman, after reading the tattoos on her neck. ‘And her handler is none other than…Jock Fenton!’
A collective gasp from the crowd.
‘Yes, he’s a dangerous man indeed. We must take special care of little Divine. In the old fashioned way.’
At least initially, the ‘old fashioned way’ involved leaving Divine in the care of a burly woman called Bessie, who clutched the wretch to her bosom. And the military man stood guard in case Divine tried to flee again.
By now some leathery women had forced the child out of the car. She was tiny, perhaps only five or six, clutching a cuddly toy owl to her chest. After a lot of swearing, presumably to gee-up the crowd, the angriest woman grabbed the child’s pigtails and dragged her to where the driver was weeping on the bonnet.
‘See this?’ she screamed. ‘You call this monster a man? After he suffered a heinous violence upon an innocent! Shame upon your household. Shame and damnation on you all.’
‘At least spare my granddaughter you devils!’ shouted the driver.
I noticed that his wife was nowhere to be seen. His granddaughter begged the mob to release her grandpa and as her sobs became increasingly hopeless she too was removed. Nobody seemed concerned about her fate. Instead, the righteous crowd was baying for fire and fury. Punches flew amongst those on the fringes and arguments raged about how to deal with the driver. In the circumstances I doubt I was the only one to feel relieved when, at long last, there was a shout from one of the lookouts followed by a great cheer as two policemen cantered towards us.
‘The boy got through, the boy did it!’ they all sang and clapped.
Simon relaxed slightly and loosened his grip allowing the driver to stand upright. He rubbed the swelling around his left eye as blood flooded from his nose.
The tall gentleman strode into the road and flagged the policemen down. The senior officer, who held the rank of sergeant, reigned in his panting mare.
‘He’s here, by the car. My friend has detained him pending your arrival.’
‘What is all this?’ asked the sergeant, pushing people off him so he could pull on his high visibility jacket. ‘What’s occurring?’
‘This man has driven his car at such a speed as to make it nothing short of a weapon. No less dangerous sir than the bullets in your machine gun or the knife in your sheath.’
‘The evil nonce was doing more that twenty. We witnessed it, we saw it first hand!’
‘More that twenty?’ queried the officer, perhaps now understanding the crowd’s strength of feeling. He motioned to his colleague, who dismounted and (after donning his high visibility jacket) jogged towards the driver brandishing his cuffs.
At this moment I pushed through the throng until I was close enough to make myself heard. ‘Sergeant, I must speak with you. My name is Mr Verity and I work in that office,’ I said, pointing to my open window. ‘I saw the entire incident. I can tell you this much, the car was going no more than ten. At the most! That girl,’ I continued, now pointing at Divine who was practically catatonic in Bessie’s powerful arms, ‘pushed the victim into the road. The driver had no chance.’
‘There’s a victim you say?’ asked the sergeant who was being overpowered by the weight of people piling in to listen.
‘There sir,’ I shouted, forcing myself closer with an enormous shove. ‘He might already be dead for all we know.’
‘Ah, I see…has someone called for an ambulance?’ asked the sergeant, wiping his brow with his riding glove.
‘We told the boy to fetch an ambulance as soon as he found you. It’s bound to be here soon.’
‘No, it’s trapped in the city centre,’ called a lookout, ‘by the buses. Apparently the buses have all stopped and nothing can get through.’
‘So be it,’ said the sergeant as, at long last, we both bent down to inspect the injured man.
We recoiled in unison at the powerful smell of alcohol seeping from him as he started making a terrible moaning sound.
‘Why are we wasting time?’ asked the tall gentleman. ‘The driver’s over there. Come sir, let’s bring this to an end. And please make sure you tend to little Divine, she’s in a terrible state being comforted by Bessie.’
‘But she threw him into the road, I saw it,’ said I.
‘Liar! He’s a liar!’ boomed the crowd. ‘Why does he accuse a poor girl, she can’t be no more than fourteen. Look how she suffers…’
I was taken aback by the stern look the sergeant gave me. Without another word he stormed towards the driver, waving his colleague aside.
‘But I was driving carefully, I know the rules,’ pleaded the driver.
At this a diminutive lady appeared and introduced herself as Louise-Marie. ‘I was the first on the scene,’ she claimed, as a distant bell heralded an approaching vehicle. ‘This so-called man has blood on his hands officer. It was like he wanted to take a life such was his wild driving style.’
For the first time the sergeant looked unconvinced and, realising this, Louise-Marie stood to her full height taking him by the hand. The crowd fell silent as she lead him to the back of the car. I followed as best I could so I would be available in case anybody became interested in establishing some facts.
Over the heads that bobbed and snarled an ambulance could now be seen. It was flanked by an unofficial escort of Vespas and Piaggios racing down the empty road, only stopping to obey all the traffic lights. In addition, some young men on horseback were keeping pace admirably, their fine stallions more than a match for the scooters.
In the meantime, Louise-Marie was pointing at the rear of the car, staring at the sergeant. He looked increasingly confused and she shook with frustration as though willing him to notice the exhaust pipes. She composed herself, and then in a voice pitched to reach even those at the back said, ‘Officer, dear sir, it is more serious than you realise. This is bigger than just one horrific crash. Can’t you see? This terrible machine runs on diesel…’
The pressure was immense as the onlookers went into a frenzy.
Louise-Marie was on her knees crying into her hands. ‘What about the children!’ she wailed. ‘The little baby children. Oh sweet baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. For the love of all that is good, for the sake of humanity you must protect us, protect us all from this evil.’
Clearly moved (as was the crowd that now stood silent), the sergeant called for the paramedic who had arrived moments earlier. The scooter riders and horsemen looked on as he ordered the paramedic to administer oxygen to Louise-Marie.
Once her hysterics were better controlled the sergeant knelt down and embraced her, resting his cheek against her forehead. People in the crowd also embraced, assuming that he now fully understood all the implications of what had occurred today; that he understood the full extent of the driver’s crimes.
After some moments the sergeant removed Louise-Marie’s mask so he could hold her face. ‘I know your pain, I feel it too. For all that is good, for the good of our children, and for the good of their children’s children, for the good of all the children of the world, I will do the right thing. I will right this wrong.’
Somewhere above a bird sang, and the sergeant’s face darkened. ‘Now my dear Louise-Marie, if you will excuse me. This I must to do personally.’
Avoiding the dung that seemed to be everywhere the sergeant returned to the driver. It occurred to me that he must have been worked over pretty thoroughly during Louise-Marie’s meltdown. Both eyes were swollen shut and his face and hair were thick with blood. However, the sergeant was clearly in no mood to sympathise as he began the formal address.
‘I have listened carefully to the witnesses and have made my decision. In over thirty years protecting our safe and harmonious society I have rarely known such disdain for the Republic’s belief systems. In my judgment your crimes are beyond doubt and you cannot expect mercy. Sir, you shall be taken to the cells where your punishment will be administered. And I warn that you should not expect to see sunlight again in your lifetime.’
At his signal, the younger officer stripped the driver naked and clamped him in handcuffs. Then, he marched the driver towards his horse and shackled him to the thick leather strapping across its haunches.
The crowd applauded with wild enthusiasm, their bloodlust temporarily sated. The officers mounted their horses and the driver, who had long since abandoned his protests of innocence, initially tried to run until the horses began galloping after which he collapsed and was dragged by his chains.
The sun was lower in the bright blue sky as people shuffled back to the Metropole, ready to recount all they had witnessed. And then I noticed the victim stir. He shook and rubbed his head before standing up on the spot where he had passed out earlier. Divine had broken loose in the ensuing celebrations and was nowhere to be seen. I decided against offering any further argument and as I walked back to my office I refused to watch as what remained of the crowd, lead by the tall gentleman, started dismantling the abandoned car.