Manohar felt great. He had the road all to himself. For hours his only company had been the thousands of tiny insects dancing in the beams of the headlights.
Cool mountain air rushed into the cab through the open window. It carried a hint of rain, but the sky was cloudless, marked only by the countless sparkling stars and the thin glow of a crescent moon.
The feeling of freedom and power as he pressed down on the accelerator was overwhelming - almost intoxicating. Only one thing bothered him at the moment. He didn't know where he was.
Not that he was lost. Manohar never got lost, at least not for very long. He just didn't know where he was. Or why. Or how he'd come to be there, or where he was going.
He was just driving, all alone, in the middle of nowhere, for no reason that he could remember.
He knew other drivers who would fall into a semi-sleep at the wheel. They'd experience a temporary disorientation. But Manohar knew that he hadn't dozed off. He was wide awake, and fully aware of everything around him.
He thought back, trying to remember when he'd stopped last
Two days before he'd been in Forest road. That's where Sara lived, so he certainly couldn't forget that.
After Forest road.. Nothing. Two days were missing.
He looked straight ahead through the darkness, trying to find the telltale dome of light of a city or town. Eventually he must come across a town - something that would give him his bearings. The road stretched out, surrounded by dense forest, on and on, with no signs of ever ending. The view in the mirror was the same.
The radio was silent. Its light tried to tell him that it was working, but nothing came through the speaker but soft static. Every channel was the same. Either he was too far from any transmitter, or absolutely nobody was on the air.
Without warning a man appeared in the road ahead. In the frightening and helpless second before collision, Manohar saw that the man was just standing there, arms raised, and smiling.
Manohar's hands automatically tightened on the wheel. There was no impact. No thud. Manohar clearly saw the image of the man slide through the cab and then disappears through the back wall of the van.
Manohar braked hard and fought to keep the van from going out of control. The right wheels bit into the gravel of the shoulder and sent up a wake of dust. Just inches from a large and very hard tree the van came to a stop.
Adrenalin shot through his veins as he hopped from the van. He looked back through the darkness and saw that the man was now walking toward him, and still smiling. Just fifty yards away the man stopped, and then waved.
"Hello. I was wondering if you'd be by tonight. I've been waiting for you."
Manohar felt the blood rush to his face, leaving a streak of icy cold along his spine. His hand was shaking badly. Fighting a desperate flood of panic he reached into the van and pulled out a large wrench.
"Hold it right there, Man," he commanded.
The man shrugged. "Okay, if that's what you want. But you might as well put the wrench away. It won't do you any good."
"Step closer and we'll see just how much good it does. Now who the hell are you, and what do you want with me?"
"It doesn't really matter who I am. You're Manohar , right?"
"Yeah. So what?"
"Well, Manohar, I've come to release you from this world."
The chill along his spine exploded, spreading a tingling numbness all through his body. Breath came hard. The man began walking toward him again, arms open.
"Stand where you are!" Manohar screamed.
The man ignored it, and was smiling even wider than before. "There's no need to be afraid, Manohar. Accept it, and it will be much easier.
Using both hands Manohar raised the wrench and hurled it at the approaching stranger. It sailed through him and slid along the road behind.
"Calm down, Manohar. I'm not here to hurt you. I'm going to help you. I'm here to release you from this world."
Manohar tightened his fists, knowing very well that all his strength wouldn't help him against this . . . this creature of darkness. "How can I fight a ghost?" he thought in panic.
The man came very close before he stopped, and then stood looking at Manohar and smiling. "Being dead isn't so bad. You'll see."
"But I don't want to be dead!"
"I'm afraid you have no choice, Manohar. There's nothing you can do about it." The man opened his arms again, as if to take Manohar into his embrace.
Manohar backed up quickly and yelled, "Get away from me. No spook is going to touch me!"
The man smiled and lowered his arms. "Do you know what a ghost is, really?"
A drop of sweat fell down Manohar's nose and into his mouth. "Yeah. They're dead people."
"Not all dead people are ghosts, but you're right, in a way. Some who have died just wander around, and won't let go of this physical world. They sometimes stay around the spot where they died - such as this road."
Cold kept spreading through Manohar until now he was shivering. He swallowed hard, trying to remove the grapefruit sized lump in his throat. "Then why don't you just leave!!! Why do you want to go haunting a road for?"
The stranger stared at Manohar, the smile gone. "You don't understand yet, do you Manohar? It's not me who's haunting this road. I'm quite alive. You are the ghost. You died on this road thirteen days ago and have been driving it ever since. Now you can leave. There's no reason for you to stay lost any longer.
"You're dead, Manohar."