By Harris Coverley

Andrew Kehoe felt cold…far too cold. Had Nadine opened a window or something? In the middle of October? A bitter wind was battering his entire body.

With a groan he slowly opened his sleep-encrusted eyes. The sight before him was vague at first — blue and brown and black and bright with flashes of light. But he focused through a chain of hard blinks, and found himself looking over a landscape of towns and fields and villages passing leisurely directly beneath him. The air was freezing and foul, drilling through him, roaring like a whole ocean falling into a pit at the bottom of the world.

The shock made him cry out — and he felt then the bony tight hands gripping his shoulders, the pudgy mass on his back. From his left he looked around and up behind him, twisting his neck: grotesque orange fingers dug into his pyjama fabric, and he could just make out a great swollen belly, clad in filthy black, over which hung a bosom sagging like a storm cloud pouring over a cliff face. This monstrous breastage pulsed up and down with the cackling of its owner.

“Oh my god!” screamed Andrew. “What the hell is this?!”

This was no nightmare — or if it was, it was the most real nightmare he had ever been subjected to. It was indeed realer than many of his awakened days in the office.

“So, you’re new?” asked a voice above the roar.

Andrew turned to see that immediately to his right was another man, also pyjama-fitted, flying forward in the same manner, prostrate in the air. With great trepidation he looked to the man’s back to see sat, in all her hideous glory, a terrible and bloated crone, with rotting hair and a green chin bulging like a toad making its mating call, howling with hateful laughter through a mouth of murky teeth.

“What’s going on?!” Andrew screamed at the man. “Where are we?!”

“About ten miles from the city centre I think,” the man replied, shouting to be heard, but shouting without fear.

“What’s happening?!” Andrew cried back. “How is this happening?!”

“I wouldn’t panic old man,” the man responded, smiling. “It’s happened to me a dozen times this year, and I always wake up in bed the next day, feeling a little worse for wear, but otherwise perfectly fine in body.”

“So they’re not going to kill us?!”

“No, that’s not their game.”

“Who the hell are they?! Aliens or something?!”

“No, no, nothing like that! Have you ever heard the expression ‘hag-ridden’?”

“Yes! What about it?!”

“Well, this is it!”

“You mean we’re being ridden by hags?! Witches?!”

“Pretty much!”

“Oh Christ…!”

Andrew looked down and nearly threw up, but before he could let out a sickly belch, the hag on his back called out and slapped his backside: “YAR! YAR! Come on boyyyyy…!”

“Jesus!” yelled Andrew.

“My name’s Calvin by the way,” said the neighbouring man.

“Andrew!” the newcomer replied, a tear flying down his cheek — the slap had been a stinging one. “How long does this go on for?!”

“Oh, hours!” said Calvin without dread.

“Are they — are they racing us?!”

“Oh yeah!” Calvin laughed. “They like to try out whomever they feel is compatible, at least that’s my theory of it all!”

“Can’t we do anything?! ANYTHING?!”

“Not much we can do…”

“So we just have to be paralysed like this and take it?!”

“No other option! Besides, what if you did get her off your back? You’d fly down straight to the ground and splat! Just lean forward and enjoy the ride…”

“You’re sick!” shouted Andrew, getting ragingly angry. “You seem to be actually enjoying yourself!”

“Oh hush!” snapped Calvin. “You can’t stop it! Besides, they have powers! Your arms are frozen at your sides, your spine solid, your legs petrified. If you tried to resist any more than you already have they could probably melt you into gravy! Just take it in stride!”

Andrew looked forward. They were now racing above the hills and into the mountains.

He closed his eyes tight, and whispered to himself: “This is not happening, this is not happening, this is not—”

“Or that!” cried Calvin. “A lot cope that way as well! Soon you might just drift back off…”

***

The next morning Andrew sat at his kitchen table, haggard, stinking of the night’s sweat. He had forgotten to shave, and his shirt was mis-buttoned beneath his pinstriped suit jacket.

“I’m sorry love,” Nadine said, pouring him a black and sugary coffee, “but you really do look awful…”

“I…” croaked Andrew, and coughed. He gripped the plastic table cloth and managed to continue: “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You were moving a lot in the night …I should’ve checked on you…”

Nadine looked into his stinging eyes, with red veins of shattered glass, set above deep purple bags.

“Well,” she said, “if you think you can go in…” 

“I can’t help it,” Andrew grumbled, getting up, his shoulders sore, his back aching, his hands and feet still chilly.

“The race…the race goes on…”

He poured his coffee into a travel mug and stumbled out to the car.

As the vehicle bounced onto the road and made its way out of the suburbs, a sense of sickness filled Andrew’s chest, and he briefly relived the ‘bad dream’.

However, as he reluctantly sped up and joined onto the motorway, the nausea fell away from him and he breathed easy.

Passing the cars of the outer lane, his speed felt…good. Not just good, but natural, vital.

He cracked both his driver and front passenger side windows to have the wind rush across him, fast and cool and raw.

As he broke seventy miles an hour Andrew sipped from the travel mug, then laughed. He was looking forward to the coming night’s slumber.

“Ha! The race goes on!

rocket crux 2 75

About the Author

Harris Coverley has had more than a hundred short stories published in Penumbra, Crimeucopia, Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, and The Black Beacon Book of Horror (Black Beacon Books), amongst many others.

He has also had over two hundred poems published in journals around the world.

He lives in Manchester, England.

Issue Contributors

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