An empty road. A rash decision. A deadly combination.

Swerve by Nicola Martin

Psychological thriller short story by Nicola Martin, free with email sign-up.

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Blast, I’m in the wrong lane.

It’s getting dark and not everyone has their headlights on. My eyes scan the traffic. Can I make it? Abruptly, I swing left into the correct lane, angling my car in front of a red Audi.

The Audi sounds its horn, but I’m so exhausted, I don’t care. Traffic’s moving and I accelerate away.

My phone pings inside my bag. It’s probably the babysitter, a slack-jawed teenage girl, standing outside my house, wondering where I am. I’m so late. I still have to shower, paint on a happy face in bright red lipstick. It’ll be my first night-out since the monster was born six months ago.

Another ping from my phone. Maybe it’s my husband, Sean, with the long-awaited grovelling message. I’m sorry. You’re right. I’ll come home.

One-handed, I scrabble in my bag on the passenger seat, trying to sneak a look at the message. That’s when I spot the traffic light turning red. I stamp the brake.

The red Audi is still behind me, too close. The bump reverberates through my body.

In her car seat, the monster’s eyes fly open. She lets out a blood-curdling scream.

I glance in the rear-view mirror and see the driver of the Audi – bald-headed, muscular – gesticulating. His face might be young, but it’s so contorted with anger it’s hard to tell.

I give a wary “pull over” wave. My car isn’t as flashy as the Audi, but it’s a sleek, silver Toyota. It used to be my pride and joy, before I had a baby who threw up all over the suede interior.

Past the lights, there’s a lay-by. I pull in. Hopefully, me and the Audi driver can exchange information quickly. I can still be home in time to catch the babysitter. I reach into the backseat and tickle Rosie’s tummy. Her cries quiet into hiccups. She gives me a heart-melting, blue-eyed stare. Not such a monster, after all.

I spy the red Audi out of the corner of my eye and hasten out of the car. I grab my bag at the same time and retrieve my phone. The message was from Sean:

Can’t believe you’re spending our money on a babysitter so you can go out on the lash.

Blood rushes to my face. The evening air is icy-cold, but heat tingles through me. I look up in time to see the Audi speeding past.

“You little …” My head’s pounding so hard, I can’t muster a word bad enough. I throw myself back into the car and jerk it into gear.

He’s leaving the scene of an accident. That’s illegal, right?

I didn’t even have a chance to check the damage to my bumper, but it’s his entitlement that bothers me most. The roads are filled with drivers like that.

My hands are tapping against the steering wheel as I speed to catch up with Mr Audi. Can’t get away from me that easily.

I peer at his number plate, try to memorise it, but it’s almost dark and my glasses prescription needs updating.

He makes a left and I follow. The traffic has thinned out and it feels good to rev the engine. I remember there’s a black ice warning tonight. Maybe I should slow down? No, the road looks clear. A sense of urgency vibrates up my spine.

Mr Audi is fifty yards ahead of me. We’re heading out into the country. Good. He’s probably heading home. If I get his address, I can send the police round. The Audi driver must see me behind him, because he accelerates.

I match his speed. This is fun. It’s like one of Sean’s video games, the ones he plays instead of looking after Rosie.

I’m right behind Mr Audi now. The country lane is growing narrower, overhanging branches striking the shell of my car. I don’t care. My blood is humming.

The Audi veers around a bend in the lane. His brake lights flash red.

My foot scrabbles for the brake, but – too late.

The front of my car crunches against his tail light. Rosie jolts in her car seat. She starts screaming.

My breath is coming fast and ragged, hands gripping the steering wheel. My car has stalled. The Audi has also screeched to a halt.

His car door flies open.

“You maniac!”

The bald man advances on me, muscles straining beneath a T-shirt that reads, Part Wolf. A quick scan around me reveals only frost-white trees and hedgerows. The road ahead is dark and deserted. It’s just me and Rosie and a man who looks like he wants to strangle me.

What was I thinking, following him?

His fist bangs on my window. “You hit my car!”

“You hit me first!” I try to say, but my throat has swallowed my voice.

My fingers fumble for the ignition key. Rosie’s cries have taken on a rhythm like a siren.

The man pumps my door handle. Thank God it’s locked.

I have to get out of here. I jolt backwards, then into second gear, and veer around the stationary Audi. The bald man takes a few running steps after me, swearing loudly.

I speed along the empty country lane. For a few blessed seconds, I think it’s over. “We’re okay, Rosie,” I say to the backseat. The baby howls in response.

Bright-white headlights loom in my rear-view mirror. The Audi is bearing down on me. Oh, God. I accelerate.

My eyes are so fixated on the man chasing me that I almost miss the glitter of ice on the tarmac. At the last second, I swerve to avoid it.

Behind me, the Audi barrels headlong into the icy patch.

He skids. At 60mph, his car flies into the hedgerow and crumples against a tree.

The baby screams. I keep driving.

The end.