It was an accident. Daniel never meant to hit the hitch-hiker who had suddenly jumped out in front of him with his thumb held out. He slammed on the brakes and tried to swerve. The screech of tyres on the tarmac – followed by the thud of the hitch-hiker's body hitting the bonnet would ring in his ears for the rest of his life. Trembling, he got out of the car and went to look at the scene. The long, winding country road was empty. No witnesses. He swatted the idea away. Daniel Moynahan was a decent, law-abiding citizen and would do right by this person, whoever he was.
The hot summer day was drawing to an end and, despite the hazy heat, Daniel shuddered. Nausea welled up in his belly as the implications of the accident began to filter through the sense of dissociation that was taking over. On autopilot, he rounded the front of the car and, to his surprise, saw no visible damage.
The sickening thud of the hitch-hiker hitting the bonnet, followed by the brief darkening of the windscreen as he rolled over the front of the car replayed in Daniel's mind. He had just hit someone and possibly killed him. Why was there no damage to the car? He walked around to the back, fascinated and a little scared. Was he losing his mind? Had he imagined the collision?
Well, he had definitely hit the brakes. The stink of burning rubber wrinkled his nose before he even saw the twin lines where he had skidded to a halt. A feeling of being watched crept into his consciousness, nudging him to look further into this. It occurred to him to check the overgrown ditch. There should have been a smell of blood – or worse – his logic told him. If he had really hit someone, that was. Still, Daniel pushed aside all notions of just writing it off as an hallucination and decided to investigate. He knew that, if he didn't, he would spend the rest of his life asking himself why not. Besides, there was always the chance that it was just an hallucination. He had to be sure.
There was a crowbar in the back, behind the driver's seat. He went back to the car and took it out, then went along the ditch, using the crowbar to pull away the berry-laden brambles, starting from where the bonnet of the car was, and working backwards. When he reached the end of the skid marks, he almost gave up, but curiosity and a desire to resolve this compelled Daniel to continue the search for the hitch-hiker's body, which he just knew was somewhere along here. On the fringes of his awareness, he could sense a pleading to keep going, to uncover the truth of the matter, as if the hitch-hiker was standing beside him, urging him on.
Unwilling to let him down, Daniel kept walking along, poking and pulling at the undergrowth along the ditch, ignoring the cold fingers of fear that were creeping up his spine. The hitch-hiker was somewhere along here, he just knew it. A brief glimpse of dirty blond hair and intense blue eyes widened in surprise and horror flashed through Daniel's mind. The feeling grew stronger, as if the hitch-hiker was waiting for him in the ditch, ready to spring out and shout, “Gotcha!”
But it wasn't quite like that after all. The next pull at the brambles and bindweed revealed a dirty trainer and a bit of denim. Daniel gulped and pulled the curtain of weeds up anyway, and uncovered more denim, soaked, rotten and stuck to the maggot-eaten corpse. Flies buzzed up in an angry cloud as he yanked at the undergrowth. Light glinted off the frame of a pair of broken spectacles that hung halfway off the ruined face. Horrified, Daniel stepped away and threw up. He put his hand on his heart as he passed by the spot where the body lay on the way back to his car, then called the police. As he waited for them to arrive, the oppressive feeling of being watched faded, as if the hitch-hiker was glad to have been found at last.
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