This story is for the Terribleminds‘ Flash Fiction Challenge: The Cooperative Cliffhanger, Part One.

Pretty simple. We were to write a cliffhanger with the idea that next week we’ll all pick someone else’s story to finish. I tossed around a couple ideas and came up with this.

I’m pretty happy with it.

Enjoy.

“Shut up and drive.”

Sam eyed the pistol in the man’s hand, then pulled the car out into traffic.

Headlights and rain slid smeary past the dark windshield. Sam tried to breathe even, to stop his heart from pounding. He failed.

Beside him, the man with the gun sat silent. Just like that the man’s identity had been reduced to that singular element. A gun with a finger on the trigger. The pressure from the weapon pressed across the car, forced Sam’s eyes away.

A block said past, and then another. He forced his eyes to turn in their sockets, to try and see his assailant, to see something more.

Street light gleamed off the slide of the pistol held low across the man’s stomach. Above it his jacket was dark, generic nylon. His face was grizzled, nose blunt, eyes hidden beneath the brim of a dripping baseball cap.

He was a stranger.

Sam looked back to the street, licked his lips.

“Where we headed?” Sam asked.

“Drive north,” the man said.

There wasn’t much to the north, downtown was already receeding behind them. Downtown and people.

Sweat trickled down Sam’s sides. Heat leapt up around his throat.

A semi-truck rolled past, dousing the windshield. Sam jumped, then recovered to flick on the windshield wipers.

“What do you want?” Sam asked.

“Keep driving,” the man said.

Sam shifted a fraction of an inch in his seat. The money belt hugged him thick and tight across his stomach. Even if he knew, he still wanted to hear the man say it. He thought it would make things better somehow.

Blocks passed, traffic thinned, buildings aged around them. In the shadows between less frequent street lights, the man spoke.

“Further.”

The street emptied onto the highway. Letters, green on white, reading 101, flashed by overhead. He accelerated into traffic thin after midnight. If he was lucky they might run into an after hours patrol, but he wouldn’t count on it, not out here.

A mile, tracked by a slow turn of his odometer, passed before the man spoke again.

“Take this exit.”

The exit didn’t go anywhere, but a state park, closed at this time of night. Ice rushed through Sam’s veins. The letters on the exit sign might has well have read ‘The End.’

Against his will, his hands obeyed, easing the car to the right, along the white line as if it were on a track. Darkness enveloped the car outside the headlights. Lights that revealed empty parking spaces, a chained gate on the right.

“Pull over.”

It was too certain, too final. It wasn’t even a question.

Ahead, beyond the parking spaces was a glimmer of light, the ramp back onto the highway.

Fear of coming moments burned in his hands. The light was his only chance. Against all reason and fear, Sam stomped the accelerator.

Tires spun, gripped, the car surged forward.

“What?” A sound, more noise than word, escaped the lips of the man with the gun.

They roared back onto the highway, kept accelerating.

“Stop the car.” The man said, voice higher.

The pitch change shifted the feeling in Sam’s chest.

“No,” Sam said.

Wet white lines blurred past under the tires.

“Stop.”

Sam rammed his foot down. The needle past the steering wheel cranked past 80.

“I just want the money,” the man said.

Knowing didn’t help. It was too late for that.

“You can’t have it.”

“Give it to me, and I’ll let you go.” His voice was even higher as the needle crossed 90.

“It’s not mine,” Sam said.

“It’s your restaurant, your money. Give it to me!”

Triple digits. The needle shook and the car with it.

“My brother’s restaurant. His money. You can’t have it.”

A heavy pause, like the rain battering the windshield wipers, filled the car.

“They can afford it. I need it!”

Sam had seen the bills, the stacks of paper with the red stamps on them. Notices that didn’t have numbers any more.

“No.”

A curve. The car drifted out of the lane before Sam pulled it back. A noise in the throat of the man beside him. Sam, clung to it like he clung to the wheel and some sense of control

“Put your gun down,” Sam said.

“I can’t,” the man said.

His voice. Sam glanced over. His hat was back. Dark hair was plastered across a lined forehead. Wide, terrified eyes stared back at him.

“Please. I need the money,” the man with the scared eyes said.

“No.”

A heavy beat, a thudding heart.

“For my daughter… she’s sick. We need a doctor.”

Sam looked again. Eyes, damp cheeks, shimmered.

He looked so scared. As scared as Sam felt. His foot eased. The roar beneath the hood quieted.

The gun so huge moments before, but so small now, shook in the man, the father’s hand. Smaller, but still there. Still pointed at him. Barrel, dark like a tunnel. Black like an empty parking lot.

“You were going to kill me!” Sam said, and jammed his foot down as hard as he could.

The entire car shuddered, roared.

“Stop! No, I just want the money, that’s all.”

He was lying. Sam’s gut burned with the knowledge of what would have happened.

“Drop the gun!”

The highway screamed against wet rubber. Water pelted their wheel wells. Bumps in the road pulsed in Sam’s fingers, the back of his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” the man said.

Another curve as the highway rose into the hills. The car’s wheels jerked, spinning free, silent. The engine roared, surging, unhindered. The car went sideways in the curve. Sam yanked the wheel back. Too far. The father with the gun gasped.

A white light filled Sam’s vision. The car plowed into the guardrail.