Showcasing creative writing by university students around the world.

Illustration by Rebecca Banks

Published Sunday, February 16th, 2014

Words by


Think of this story as a vaccination.

You probably won’t enjoy it, but one day it might save your life.

Think of this story as a vaccination.

You probably won’t enjoy it, but one day it might save your life.
This is the point at which you sigh and say ‘what hyperbole’. Or maybe you just think it. I shouldn’t assume that you’re the sort of person who would speak to themselves. But, then, I’ve just assumed that you’re alone. I’m getting ahead of myself. Playing join-the-dots on a blank piece of paper…
Have you ever heard of Gestalt psychology?
It’s all to do with perception. Joining dots. Let’s say someone draws a dotted line. It’s a row of circles, but you still recognise it as a line. If someone shows you three sort of pacmen – here, let me draw it –


your brain fills in the rest. You see, the human mind likes order. Acid plus metal goes to salt plus hydrogen. Did King Phillip Come Over From Great Spain? The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone.
I should warn you: what I am about to show you, what you are about to read, you will not be able to forget. Now, I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I’m not a hippy. I don’t think the CIA are trying to stop me getting my chakras re-upholstered. But what I am about to tell you, it’s going to open your eyes. I will introduce you to the truth, and leave you and the truth standing awkwardly making small talk while I fetch you both a drink, and you feel as if you ought to say something but you don’t want to admit that you’ve already forgotten the truth’s name, so you ask the truth if it had to travel far to get here, and –
Sorry. I haven’t had much sleep lately. But you could probably tell that from my handwriting. I’ve only got the one pencil, so you can understand why I’m not crossing things out.
Fundamentally, I am going to wake you up. For this, you will need some help because, you know what? Being in bed is quite comfortable. But this should be a choice. If you want to have a quiet life, go back to bed. Go on, just roll over now. I won’t judge you. Scrunch up this piece of paper. Shred it. Feed it to your hamster. If you read it, the idea of owning a hamster will seem futile.
Still reading? Good. Now, where was I? Ah, Gestalt…
Now, the brain doesn’t just fill in shapes. That’s only a party trick. Where it excels, where it really pushes out the figurative boat, is explanations. Suggest the edges, and your brain does the work. Horsemeat’s a great example. You discover that a burger’s 27% horse, and automatically assume that the other 73% is beef. It’s cute. Or it would be cute, if it weren’t sickening.
You see, there never was a triangle.
Right. Now, I’m going to give you one more chance to turn back. To feed this to the hamster. There I go again, assuming that you own a hamster. If you don’t, you should really buy one. They’re delicious. And once you run out of tinned foods, you’ll be grateful for anything that contains protein.
Anyway, once you realise that the edges are what matter, you understand that those in power only really have to create edges. They don’t have to lower crime levels. They just have to show you the rabbit-duck face-vase triangle.
Sorry. I haven’t had much sleep lately.
Now where was I? Ah, yes. Your vaccination. As you might have noticed, this letter is attached to an envelope. The envelope contains a diary. The diary contains the truth.

March 6th

On my way to work today, I walked past an electric car. It was parked outside my neighbours’ house, boxy, awkward, and so white that it was almost difficult to look at (not unlike my neighbours’ son). It looked new – that is to say, its paintwork shone – and when I looked into the bonnet I saw my own face reflected back, curves distorting my eyes to meet my chin in my own personal portrait by Egon Schiele. A Guantanamo-orange lead trailed, like an umbilical cord, between the car’s side and a post in the road. And this – this is what struck me as strange – instead of having proper glass windows, the frames were filled with a sort of thick plastic sheeting.
I couldn’t concentrate at work. Well, that’s not strictly true; I could concentrate, just not on my work. You see, I was wondering why the electric car hadn’t been stolen. The windows were flimsy: they could easily be cut with a knife, like scissors through cling-film. I brought this up with Dave, and he suggested that I ask the neighbours. When I got back in the evening I tried, but they weren’t home. Or at any rate, they weren’t answering the door.
March 7th
I actually dreamt about the car last night. Debated knocking on the neighbours’ door this morning, but figured that they wouldn’t appreciate the wake-up call. Besides, since they hadn’t been in in the evening, and their car hadn’t moved, it was unlikely they were home. But again, I couldn’t concentrate at work. This was one of those thoughts that wouldn’t go away. I’m in research. I’m paid to ask why. It’s not something I can switch on and off. So this thought, this question, I knew it was here to stay. By the time the end of the work-day rolled around, my notebook was filled with sketches of the car, surrounded by rube-goldberg style security systems.
When I arrived back home in the evening and saw my neighbours’ lights on, I bounded up to their door. They seemed rather confused by my question; apparently the car wasn’t actually theirs. I was slightly taken aback, apologised, and went back to my front door. But as I stood on the step, the question continued to burn in the back of my mind – how come it hadn’t been stolen? Instead of going indoors, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask the next house down. Or the one after that. Or five or six more.
I must have asked at a hundred houses before I gave up and returned home.
It was as I was lying in bed that the answer came to me. The car must belong to someone who worked night shifts. That’d explain why I had never seen it move, and why the owner hadn’t come forwards when I had called around the street. But still the questioned burned in the back of my mind. It wasn’t enough just to have a hypothesis. I needed to test it.
From my front window, I had quite a good view of the car. I decided to stake it out. When, or if, the mystery night-worker came out to collect it, I’d be waiting. I settled down on the windowsill with cold glass on one side of my face, and a notebook in my hand.
It was about 2am when a flurry of movement stirred me from my stasis, my chin falling off the support of my elbow and digging hard into my knee. A young man – he couldn’t have been more than twenty – was walking towards the car. I say walking, but it was the confident swagger of someone who doesn’t think he’s being watched, accompanied by the confident low trousers of someone who wouldn’t mind if he was. Perhaps he was swaggering because of the trousers? Then, a glint in his hand, catching the lamplight. Keys? A knife! He was going to steal the car. He wasn’t the owner! No, this was all wrong.

This was not supposed to happen.
I jumped up, and before I really knew what I was doing I was hop-skipping into shoes, ploughing a deep furrow through the carpet of newspapers and takeaway menus as I clumsily forced my arms through a coat’s sleeve. My momentum carried me through the front door almost exactly as I realised that this was an appalling idea. I stumbled onto the dew-wet grass of the drive to see that I was too late, in any case – the thief had already cut through the plastic of the ‘window’ and was sitting smugly in the driver’s seat. I couldn’t hear an engine, but then I remembered that I wasn’t supposed to. In its place was a high-pitched drone, a backwards sigh, an inverse howl.
The thief did up his seatbelt, checked the mirror, and then clocked me. He grinned and offered me a two-fingered salute. It was then that he looked down in consternation. It occurred to me that he must have been pressing the accelerator pedal as I arrived, planning to speed away. But as he looked down, his expression became one of discomfort. He fiddled with the seatbelt. Around his chest, his hoodie appeared pleated. My eyes flicked up to his face, now painted with panic. Then, and you’re not going to believe this, I realised that the belt was moving. Milimetre by millimetre it was constricting around his middle, bunches of 95% cotton blend rippling out from either side. “Stop it” he said, looking straight at me. “Stop it”, he said again, voice wavering. I wanted to help, but I was rooted to the spot as the belt continued to tighten, to creep around his middle. There was a loud crack as his ribs splintered, and I suppose he would have screamed if his lungs hadn’t collapsed.
March 8th
Convinced that last night was just a bad dream, I went out in the morning to check the car. It was completely fine. The plastic sheeting was in one piece. There was no corpse in the driver’s seat. There was no blood. Had I imagined it? Was it a lurid, lucid dream? The car had been preying on my mind: it wouldn’t be the first time I’d dreamt about it. But what I saw – what I thought I had seen – the look of panic, the thick, black belt creeping slowly round his chest, the sound as his ribs gave way – I couldn’t shake the image.
It wouldn’t hurt to stake the car out again.
I muddled through work in the sleep-haze of the truly distracted. The man, the way he’d died, the way I thought he’d died, it was nothing like in the films. People scream in films, they don’t just… snap.
When I got home, I started the preparation. Notebook? Check. Pro-plus? Check. Fully-clothed, I took my position on the windowsill, and watched the minutes grind past. It was just after 4am when the car had another visitor. It was a young lad – couldn’t have been more than 16. He was built like a coat-hanger, the excess fabric of his trouser legs creasing and uncreasing around the wires of his calves as he strode towards the kerb.
I ran to the front door, onto the grass, waving my arms.
“Stop!” I shouted. It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t really thought about what would happen beyond this point.
“Or what?” the would-be thief asked. His eyes patting me down, sizing me up.
“I… erm… don’t think it… erm… it might not end very well for you.”
“Is that a threat?” He stepped forwards, brandishing what I guessed was probably, given the context, a knife. I could have, no, must have hallucinated the night before. The plastic sheeting was pristine.
“I… erm… forget it.” I shrugged apologetically, staring at my feet. “I’ll just go back inside.”
I started to head back to the house as, like the day before, the high-pitched whine began. But as I held my key above the lock, I heard the boy screaming. I ran to the side of the car, but by the time I arrived his head was lolling limply forwards. And then came the crack. The day before, I had gone inside after I’d seen the death. But tonight, I don’t know what it was – perhaps it was curiosity, perhaps it was that I’d tried to stop it – I felt like I had the right to watch. I was a scientist. Where had the corpse from the night before gone? I watched as the seatbelt continued to tighten, and tighten, and I could have sworn that it was going to snap him in half. With a crunch, which sprayed the inside of the windscreen with a haze of blood, it did. I threw up.
March 9th
I woke up this morning convinced that I had had a nightmare. I had taken a lot of pro-plus. Hallucination is possible, with caffeine. But reading back over my diary entry, I don’t know. Tonight I will stake out the car again. I will set up a video-camera.
Work dragged by. I just wanted to get back home, get back to the car, to my camera. I couldn’t eat lunch. The salad, it reminded me of the crunch. The slick of blood on the inside of the window.
March 10th
The camera proved it. It actually happened. Called in sick to work. Took the camera to the police. They laughed at me, congratulated me on the special effects. I protested. They asked me when I last slept. I answered truthfully. Four days ago. They laughed at me. Why did they laugh at me? They kept a copy of the video.
Since the police wouldn’t help, I felt an obligation to do something. To warn the thieves. The men who tried to steal the car, they weren’t innocent, but they didn’t deserve to die. I tried leaving signs under the windscreen wipers. “Please do not steal”. “Do not steal” had seemed a bit aggressive. I had considered using reverse psychology, “steal this car,” but then I felt like I might be responsible.
March 11th
The sign didn’t work.
March 12th
Got called into the boss’ office at work. Apparently someone has complained about my personal hygiene. I’m still wearing the same clothes I was a week ago. I didn’t realise a week had passed. Between the caffeine and the snuff films that play every time I shut my eyes, I haven’t got much sleep. I was sent home from work. I didn’t mind.
March 20th
Over the last twelve days, I have watched ten men die. Sometimes the left window was cut, mostly the right. The ignition would switch on. They would be severed in two, leaning forwards with their thorax resting in their laps, windows tinted black, with what I knew was red. By the morning, they’d be gone, and the windows were fixed.
I think I’ve got it. I think I’ve worked it out.
The car wants to be stolen. It’s not a car, it’s a venus humantrap. A chameleon that’s learnt to imitate machinery. Some would argue not very well, but it works.
March 21st
Went online. Turns out the video I showed to the police has gone viral: show people what looks like a low-budget horror film, and they will take it as one. Posted online in a forum for conspiracy theories. “Car eats people. Help.” No replies yet.
March 22nd
Saw what I had to do. Went to garage. Got petrol. Doused car. Lit match.
As it went up in flames, it twitched and screamed. I reflected on how wonderful it is that petrol is available throughout the world, and at such reasonable prices.
This story is sponsored by Exxon Mobil.

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