Drive!

gray asphalt road
Image from Unsplash taken by George Hiles

Kane shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I’m not sure that this is a great idea. We’ve gone for miles. Perhaps we should turn back.”

April checked her mirrors and then, indicating, pulled into the side of the road. “I really wanted you to check out my new car. I mean, I had Den check out the engine at his garage, but I sensed a presence, and I was wondering if it was okay.”

Kane hunched lower in his seat. All of the foster kids that had been part of Auntie Brenda’s life knew that he could see ghosts. He had passed on enough stern and supporting messages. It was still quite awkward. “I know that there’s a man in the car,” he said carefully. “But we haven’t spoken.” He looked closer at April. “You’re looking very pale. Are you alright?”

April grimaced. “I shouldn’t tell you, really, but I’m expecting. I’m only a few weeks gone, but I’m feeling a bit rough.”

“Congratulations!” Kane said. “Will I get to be an honorary uncle?”

“Of course!” April said. “Ooh, I really don’t feel well.”

Kane felt the start of panic. “What do you mean? What’s the matter?”

April’s face lost the last of her colour. “I feel all woozy.” She slumped against the steering wheel.

“April! April! What’s happening?” Kane patted her hand, but she didn’t seem to notice.

“Dial 999,” the voice from the back of the car said firmly. “We need to get her to a hospital.”

Kane turned around and saw the ghost of a man in his late fifties, with greying hair, glasses and a calm expression. “Yes, of course.” He pulled out his phone. His panic quadrupled. “I can’t get a signal!”

“Okay, keep calm,” the man said. “I’m Andy, and we can deal with this. Take a breath. Now, first things first. Check quickly for breathing and pulse.”

Kane fumbled a bit but managed. “April, can you hear me?”

“Mmm?” April’s eyes rolled back in her head.

“That’s a good sign,” Andy said. “Now, get her into the back of the car and get her legs higher than her head.” He looked at Kane’s expression. “It’s okay, I know the techniques. Get out of your side first – check for traffic!”

Kane stumbled around to April’s side and opened the door. “Come on, April. We need to make you comfy.”

“Check your phone again,” Andy instructed, still calm and measured.

Kane shook his head. “I’m still getting nothing.” He looked around the desolate countryside. April had driven them to the hills above Bolton Abbey and there wasn’t a soul in sight. “I don’t know what to do.”

“It’s okay,” Andy said. “You can do this. We need to get April to some medical attention, and that’s not going to be a problem.” He gave Kane a hard look. “I can’t do anything physical, so it’s down to you, but I can tell you what to do. And I know this area well. I know all the short cuts and back roads and we’ll have her in Skipton General Hospital before you know it.”

His calming voice was having an effect, but Kane was still panicking. “How are we going to get her there? I can’t get a signal!” He looked around wildly. “It could take me hours to walk back down to the road.”

“You’ll have to drive,” Andy said. “But first, get April into the back with her legs higher than her head.”

Kane grunted and struggled as he followed Andy’s instructions and half lifted and half guided April into the back. “I can’t drive.”

“Okay,” Andy said. “Put a blanket over April – there’s one on the parcel shelf. That’s right.” He looked carefully at Kane. “I’m going to tell you what to do, and you’re going to follow my instructions and we will at least get as far as the main road.”

“I haven’t even got a provisional licence!” Kane said. “I can’t do it.”

“April needs you to do it, Kane,” Andy said. “Just listen to me. I was a police officer for twenty years and a driving instructor for another ten. I can talk you through this. All you need to do is keep your head. And you need to do that, because April is looking poorly.”

Kane looked down at April. Her breathing was laboured and she was terrifyingly colourless. “Okay.”

Kane walked around to the front of the car and, after a heartbeat of hesitation, climbed into the driver’s seat. The key was in the ignition. He turned the key.

Suddenly Andy was sitting next to him, complete with clipboard and a spectral seatbelt. “Put your seatbelt on, please, Kane. We don’t need two casualties.”

Kane nodded and put the seatbelt on. “We need to turn around, don’t we?”

“You were in foster care with April, weren’t you?” Andy said. “You must have had a go or two in a car.”

Kane shrugged. “I was usually a passenger. And it was years ago.”

Andy looked at him thoughtfully. “Okay, let’s start. Clutch in first, release the handbrake and we’ll find a good place to go around.”

Kane pressed a pedal.

“No, the clutch,” Andy said. “No, the other one. That’s it.”

The car lurched forward.

“Check your mirrors,” Andy said. “Just in case. No, just a glance! Keep steering straight.”

Kane frantically corrected the line of the car.

“We’re coming up to a gate so just move a little past it, that’s right. No, wait a minute, stop. No, that’s the accelerator. That’s it.”

The car lurched to a halt. Kane could hear the stress in Andy’s voice.

“It’s okay,” Andy said. “I’m going to ask you to do things that I used to take weeks to build up to. It’s fine. Now, find reverse. That’s it, clutch down, and I want you to release calmly and slowly.”

The car stalled.

“We can do this,” Andy said. “The important thing is to know that this is the easiest way to get April to some help. We focus on the outcome. Now, clutch down, slowly up and now turn the wheel to the left. No, the other left. That’s it. Nice and slow. Slowly! Slowly! And stop!”

The car stalled, inches from the drystone wall. Kane managed to get his foot on the brake.

“Well done,” lied Andy. “Now, we need to make sure that we take care coming away. Start steering now before we start the car. It’s not good for the tyres, but let’s be practical. That’s right. Now, we are going to start the car, make sure that we have plenty of revs before we release the brake and then we are going to turn right. Okay? Now, make sure that the handbrake is on. Good.”

Kane took a breath, turned the ignition and eased his foot down on the accelerator.

“Not too many revs,” warned Andy. “Right, now slowly release the handbrake and-”

Kane let out the handbrake and then shrieked as the car hurtled out, skewing wildly to the right and roared painfully down the road. He took his foot from the accelerator and his knuckles turned white on the steering wheel.

“Keep it steady,” Andy said, keeping his voice even with effort. “Now second gear, clutch down, change the gear and slowly up.”

The car stalled.

“It’s okay,” Andy said. He was gripping the spectral clipboard with some force. “Handbrake on, into neutral, ignition, release handbrake, into first, that’s it! Now into second! Well done!”

The car trundled along at fifteen miles an hour.

“I think we need to show that there is a hazard,” Andy said. “Let’s get the hazard lights on.” He glanced at Kane’s set face. “We’re going to slow to a stop, put on the hazard lights and then start again. It warns others to give us space if we need it. You can do this.”

The car stalled.

“Kane, look at me,” the ghost said. He waited until the white faced lad turned to him. “You have to do this for April. There are going to be lots of stalling and lurching and crunching, and it’s going to be scary. But if you listen to me, you can get April to safety, and she needs that.”

Kane looked back at April, whose breathing was fast and shallow. He nodded, put on the hazards, gear in neutral, ignition, first gear, second gear and then carefully around the corner.

“Country lanes can be tricky,” Andy said. “But we haven’t got too far to go before we get to a main road and we’re bound to get a signal there. Now, keep it steady. Don’t worry about the bend, just dip the clutch and don’t panic.”

The car lurched suddenly forward, swung wildly across the road and lurched before settling back down to fifteen miles an hour.

“Well done,” Andy lied again. For a moment, the spectral clipboard shook in his hands. “You can do this. We can be down to Bolton Bridge before you know it. Now, keep it steady, don’t worry about the rise.”

The car laboured up the hill, the engine almost banging.

“Just a little more on the accelerator,” Andy said carefully.

The car shot over the top of the hill, careered around the blind bend, and shot down the slope. The engine screamed.

“Just gently touch the brake,” Andy said.

The car lurched violently, then continued at speed.

“No, just gently touch it, that’s it.” Andy kept the encouraging note in his voice with effort. “And let the car slow down nice and steady.”

The car lurched, growled and stalled.

“You’re doing very well for a first time,” Andy said. “Especially in the circumstances.”

They both looked around. April was alarmingly still and seemed unaware of the rollercoaster the drive was.

“Check your signal,” Andy said. “We may just need to get the car safe.”

Kane checked his phone. “Nothing, no, hang on…” He unbuckled his seatbelt.

“Handbrake on first!” Andy yelled.

The car was starting to roll away as Kane dived for the handbrake, then jumped out of the car. There was a tiny flicker of a hint, but nothing concrete. He forced himself back in the car. “Nothing.”

“But there was nearly something.” Andy was being carefully encouraging. “So we keep going. Now, seatbelt on, into neutral, ignition. Come on, you can do this. It’s all straightforward.”

It took Kane ten minutes to travel the next three miles. He could feel the sweat on his face, and his whole body ached as the tension took his toll. The car lurched, gears crunching, then stalled or shot forward in unpredictable ways before crawling around yet another blind corner. Through it all, Andy’s calm voice kept Kane going. That, and the laboured, rasping breathing from April in the back.

“You’ve done brilliantly,” Andy said. “Absolutely brilliantly. I couldn’t ask for more. Now I want you to slow down and steer to the side where there’s a gate. You can stop there. It’s okay. That’s it, easy on the brake. Handbrake on, engine off and there we are! Well done. Now, you see that in front of you. It’s a telephone pole.” Andy grinned at Kane. “You may not be in a condition to recognise it, but it almost certainly means that there’s a signal.”

Kane pulled out his phone and checked. He noticed that his hands were shaking. “I’ve got a signal!” He looked around at April. She was scarily still.

“Good, now check your maps and make a note of where we are. Then call 999. They’ll get April the help you need.” Andy smiled. “And you had better get back into the passenger seat. We don’t want them to want to check your licence.”

Instead, Kane got out and leaned over April as he made the call. She was cold and clammy now, and he eased the blanket over her as he passed on all the information. As he hung up, he turned to Andy. “Thanks. I don’t know what I would have done.”

“You would have managed something,” Andy said breezily. “Now, while we’re waiting, I’ll run through some of the Highway Code. After that start, I’ll get you through your driving test, no problem.”

Kane rubbed April’s icy hand. “Perhaps it can wait,” he suggested.

“No time like the present,” Andy said briskly. “And you don’t want to be fretting while you wait. Now, what is the speed limit on a road with no markings but streetlamps?”

Kane tucked the blanket closer into April and wondered how he could get out of this one. A ghost for a driving instructor was all he needed.

If you are interested, you can read Kane’s story from the beginning here. The poor lad doesn’t always have an easy time.

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