It was a few years back, and I was driving up to university at the beginning of the school year. A friend was supposed to be riding with me, but he’d had to cancel at the last minute, and so I’d shrugged and headed off alone. Not ideal or really advisable on a long trip, but I really didn’t feel like changing my plans or trying to rustle up another companion for the drive up. At that time, it was the longest drive I’d ever made alone.
Everything was going pretty well until about five hours into the trip, when I heard a loud snap from somewhere in front of me. I’d been having all sorts of car trouble recently, from battery failures to flat tires, and had undertaken this trip despite my folks' trepidation. I got this really cold feeling all over, and just kept perfectly still for a moment or two, hoping I’d imagined the sound, or that it wasn’t anything important.
Better slow down and check this out, I thought. I released the accelerator and pushed down the clutch. No resistance. That wasn’t good. Taking deep breaths, I put on the brakes and veered onto the side of the road, finally stalling into a stop.
I hopped out of the car and opened the hood to check the engine. I looked at it for a minute or two, rubbed my chin a bit, and then closed the hood. I had no idea how to fix cars.
I phoned roadside assistance, and they said they’d send someone out as soon as possible. I’d managed to break down in basically the middle of nowhere though, so I’d definitely be waiting a while whatever happened.
I glanced at my phone as I brought it down from my ear. I’d been using it as a GPS, and the battery was below half-full. I’d need it for the rest of the journey – a few more hours – so I decided against calling anyone else or checking anything online just then. Besides, I barely had any signal. I put it back in my pocket.
I looked around. There wasn’t very much to see. The road stretched out behind and in front of me, and to my sides there was an expanse of flat, empty grassland. I could see all the way to the horizon in every direction.
The evening was a warm one, so I opened my driver- and passenger-side doors to let some air in before getting back into the car and grabbing a book from the backseat. I put it on my lap and focused my attention on the words, avoiding looking outside at the horizon. It was early evening, but also summertime, so the sun wasn’t going to set until past seven o’clock, by which time the repairman would surely have arrived.
I stopped reading when the light got too grey and I had to screw up my eyes to see the words on the page. The repairman still hadn’t arrived. I hadn’t heard another car go by since I’d stopped. I closed the book and looked out of the windshield.
The town I grew up in is a really hilly place, and so is the area around it. You can even see a few mountains towering in the distance, when that distance isn’t blocked by a hill. Wherever you are, it’s like there’s a natural boundary around you. Anyone or anything that wants to get to you has to climb up and down a mountain to do it.
But out there, on that road, the way was clear for miles and miles. My older brother used to tell me stories about giants who would go around stepping on children and then pulling the remains from between their toes and spreading them over enormous slices of toast. It makes me chuckle to think of it now, but I was terrified when I was younger and smaller, especially when he’d lift his foot over my head while I was sitting down.
If there was a giant somewhere in the distance, I imagined, looking out at the ever-greying landscape before me, he’d look like just a speck on the horizon at first, but then he’d come lumbering forward, getting bigger and bigger, his footsteps louder and louder, his giant fat face coming into view, and he’d just be running in a straight line, nothing to dodge or climb or navigate, and then –
I whipped out my phone. Battery almost dead, no missed calls. Where was this mechanic?
It was dark and the wind had picked up. I shut my door. There was a thumping sound. A giant foot flashed in my mind’s eye. There was another thump. I couldn’t see the flat land around me but I knew it was there. I didn’t know what else might be. The thump sounded again. Very soft, but getting louder.
I clutched my knees and closed my eyes. The thump came again. And again. And then there was a rattling. And a growl. And another thump. And then a knock. And then –
“Are you alright there?” asked the mechanic. “Sorry I’m so late, had some car troubles of my own.”
The mechanic was a large, friendly man who made no mention of my huddled, shivering position in the front of the car. After inquiring where I was travelling from and to, he commented, “It’s a good thing you didn’t break down on, oh, let’s say, a narrow mountain pass – that could have been a nasty accident.”
I muttered an agreement.