Joel’s ancient blue Ford Escort climbed the empty hill road into cloud, which became thrashing rain.
The car sputtered…
‘Please, not again!’
Joel reached into the glove compartment, pulled out the WD40, exposed the sparkplugs, and sprayed.
He tossed the aerosol back into the car and padded up the hillside into the woods to relieve himself. Springy undergrowth folded over his shoes as he walked.
Out of sight of the road, he let loose, and sighed: it had been two hours since his last stop.
He zipped up and made to turn. His ankles met resistance. He looked down.
Blackberry brambles encircled his lower legs.
He pulled free: thorns dug into his socks and skin.
He tramped back to the car, swearing: the undergrowth sprang around his feet, barbing his ankles.
He turned the motor. Despite the WD40, the engine was dead.
He pulled out his mobile.
‘Due to the weather,’ roadside assistance said, ‘we’re experiencing ninety-minute delays.’
Ignoring his drenched clothing, he wriggled till comfortable, then dozed off.
He awoke to rocking.
Brambles had wrapped cross-shaped about his car, like string round a parcel.
He tried opening a door: it was jammed.
The car lurched sideways, off the road.
He needed something to cut those brambles.
Like what? He wasn’t carrying anything sharp.
He flipped down the glove compartment, knowing he was wasting his time.
His car key? No. It was tubular, with no edges.
And anyway, with the electrics gone, he couldn’t get the window down.
Maybe if he smashed the windscreen, he could get a dagger-length shard to attack with?
Visions of cubed glass at accident scenes filled his head.
Maybe he could crawl out. There was enough space.
He positioned himself and started kicking.
It wouldn’t give. The angle was all wrong and simply bent back his foot.
The car creaked horribly: the roof buckled inwards.
‘Oh my God!’
He grabbed it and lashed out. The windshield opaqued and cracked like ice. His second blow sent glass clattering onto the bonnet.
The car had now bumped twenty meters up the hillside.
He clambered out. Glass bit into his palms, but he felt nothing.
Bramble wrapped round him immediately: he yanked free, thorns ripping into him, jumped off, and galloped towards the tarmac.
A two-metres-wide river of bramble stretched left and right between him and the road.
You can leap that, he thought.
He increased his speed.
The bramble twitched like spasming muscle; Joel’s scalp prickled.
His brain sent conflicting commands, split seconds apart:
Wait till you’re just one pace away, then jump;
No, jump earlier, it’s moving, it’ll get you;
Put extra power into the jump to give you height;
No, extra height will shorten the jump.
Panicking, he picked up speed. He jumped short, but with extra power.
The bramble flinched again, waited, then flicked up to meet him, grabbing his ankles.
He splattered face-down in mud as if he’d tripped on a kerbstone, sending glass deeper into his bleeding hands.
Bramble whipped round his calves and thighs, until he could not bend his legs.
He got onto his elbows, tried to propel himself forward, away.
In response, thorns dug into his flesh, piercing it.
He yelped with discomfort.
Then the bramble yanked him flat. He sank his fingers deep into the mud for anchorage, but the briar was stronger.
He grabbed at a branch lying on the ground, lifted it and lashed out. It made no difference.
He tried kicking, as though swimming the butterfly stroke, to see if he could shake himself free, but it was useless.
The brambles slinked round his arms, extracted his branch. Seconds later he was prostrate, spread-eagled, resembling an effigy made from barbed wire.
The lacerations began, then: thorns dug in, pulled, and sliced him into strips, as a chef might prepare beef for stroganoff.
He couldn’t struggle, couldn’t move. He could only gasp, knowing he was miles from the nearest human being, that he was going to die, and that the breakdown man, when he arrived, wouldn’t even find his car, let alone his remains.
Roger Lord Zeck writes speculative fiction. His work has appeared in, among other places, AlienSkin, and will feature in a 2009 Shroud Magazine anthology. His other job is teaching English in Korea.