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My first thought was that I was still dreaming. But no, this is no dream. I really am standing alone on the side of a road. I’ve no idea how I got here. Even worse, I’ve no idea where "here" is.
The sun’s disappeared but it isn’t dark yet. I look to my right and then to my left. The road stretches in both directions. Do I walk? Do I sit down and wait? I check my pockets. No phone, no keys, no money. Nothing.
I try to remember how I ended up here. I think I was at a party. Yes, that’s it. I was at a party. With Jonas and his new date. Jonas had asked me if I wanted to tag along. I was the third wheel that quickly got unstuck. The rave was in a penthouse where, sadly for me, everyone was coupled up. I did what most people would do at a party when flying solo. I got plastered. Yeah, flashes of memories are returning. I was sussing out the late afternoon skyline and smashing those 5-star Mojitos. There might or might not have been a couple of pills involved too.
I’m not quite sure what happened after that. Jonas was meant to drop me home after the party but he must have found me worse for drink and dumped me here instead. What a wanker! He’s probably hiding here somewhere, laughing his head off.
I shout, “Hey dickhead, enough of this. Come on out. Take me home.”
My voice breaks the deadly silence. The last syllable fades away, replaced by an eerie quietness. The distinctive smell of desolation, which is neither good or bad but just dead, hangs in the air.
I dig my shoes into the loose reddish earth. There’s no tarmac on the road. He must have driven for miles to get to this place. I live and study in Adelaide, you see, as far away as possible from this back of beyond. I wouldn’t have it any other way. People look at me in horror when I say this but give me the polluted air of a city any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Cities make me feel alive. Country air gives me nothing but headaches. The rush of traffic, people with empty stares on their faces walking like robots to their workplaces, loud music, loud horns, loud noises … so much better than this sterile silence.
Who would want to live in a place like this? Before we moved Down Under, my father used to take us to visit our grandparents in Wales. How I hated those journeys through those endless stretches of roads with barely a house in sight. I used to be on edge the whole trip. What if the car breaks down? What if we steer off the road? We would be alone, stuck between two points. Which is exactly where I am now, in that dreaded spot between the "w" and "h" of nowhere.
I cup my hands against my mouth and scream at the top of my voice, “Jonas, stop jerking around. It’s getting late.” Nothing.
Where can he be hiding? There’s a field opposite with some ground-hugging shrubs, certainly not tall enough to hide the bugger. Bluish, silvery fog, like a mystical tsunami, is rolling over the ground. It reminds me of when my grandfather used to scare us with tales of the Old Grey King who sits on his mountain and comes down to snatch children who get lost on the bogs.
I walk a few paces up the road. My head hurts. I can feel a splitting headache coming on. It must have been one hell of a party. It always is when you can’t remember exactly what happened. Admittedly, this is not the first time it happened. I once woke up next to a naked stranger. Don’t laugh. If you ever find yourself in that position, pretend that you know their name, even if you don’t. I can tell you from experience that you’re kind of expected to, after having slept with them.
One of my hands is on my hip; the other is scratching my head. I look into the distance. Is that a dust cloud that I see? Yes! A car’s approaching. I stand as close as possible to the edge of the road. I don’t want the driver to miss me because of the rising fog. He might be the only passer-by before darkness sets in -- my only ride out of here.
My eyes immediately try to focus on the number plate. It is an instinctive reaction. I have this thing with number plates, especially personalized plates. I try to find the hidden meaning in that group of letters and numbers.
Sometimes, letters must be read as Roman numerals. A friend of mine bought a supercar after winning big at roulette. His number plate is XXIX BLK. Some numbers are interchangeable with letters. A 7 or a 4 can be an A. I saw a ‘777’ number plate once and wondered why anybody going to Alcoholics Anonymous would want to advertise it on his car. Mad, I’d say. Totally mad. Number 3 can be an E, and number 5 a S. The easiest one is, of course, the letter o which is often used as a 0 and vice-versa. But be careful: sometimes, the 0 is a D.
The car’s very close now. It’s a black 1963 Ford Consul Cortina. How do I know? My grandfather had one of those, same color and all. I can hear the gravel under the tires as it approaches, the same crunching noise followed by the rattling of the stones as they hit the underside of the car. It looks like the driver has seen me. He’s slowing down.
I look at the number plate and freeze. Cold sweat covers my body. Suddenly, everything becomes clear.
Peter Portelli is Maltese and calls the Mediterranean island of Malta his home. He is a career civil servant and writing has always been central to his professional life. For many years he thought about writing fiction but somehow never got around to it. Until recently. He started out writing short stories and flash fiction and, so far, his work has been published in The Chamber Magazine and Bright Flash Literary Review.
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