‘He came out of nowhere’

That crunch. That lurching feeling in the chest. The cold horror spreading. Josh flicked his hazards on and pulled onto the hard shoulder. This is what you’re meant to do, right? He glanced in his rear view mirror before getting out. The guy in the van was big, and he was already marching towards him.

“You fucking plonker. You twat. You got eyes, have ya? S’a brand new van this. You better be fucking insured. Jesus, tell me you are.”

His broad hands sprouted fingers; thick, crusty fingers like ones that had spent a lifetime laying bricks. The man clenched them into fists. One giant finger aimed itself at Josh’s face.

“Uh, I’m really sorry, I just – I didn’t see… It’s dark and I’m not -”

“Are you thick or summink?” The angry man was already taking a photo of the long green scrape and his dented side panel.

“Look, my car’s damaged too,” Josh whimpered, as if to elicit some empathy from the man.

“Boo fucking hoo,” he replied. “Serves you right for driving a Punto.”

“I’ve never been in an accident, I – I don’t know -”

“Here’s how it goes son, I send these to your insurance company, I tell ’em how you’ve already admitted liability, we take you to the cleaners. Get those details, yeah.”

A lump rose in Josh’s neck as he swung the glove box open. I’m such an idiot, he thought. Why didn’t I see him? I can’t afford a full tank of petrol, let alone this.

The angry man swaggered up to the front of Josh’s car to take another picture. There, he froze, phone poised in his hands. His gaze was locked on something in the middle distance. Josh’s windscreen? His face? He seemed to be staring right through it all.

When he moved again, it was as if he had forgotten how to walk. He moved his feet in a heavy shuffle. All the rage that was boiling over just a second ago had somehow been extinguished. He grasped Josh’s right hand and shook it once, without meeting his gaze.

“Drive safe, son. You got lucky this time.”

With a roar, a streak of battered white bodywork and red lights joined the motorway traffic and sped away into the night. And with that, the man was gone as fast as he appeared.