Zack enjoyed going for long walks in the night-time. He enjoyed the feeling of a light breeze across his face and the intense first moments of when goose-bumps covered his skin. He enjoyed smelling the fresh night air and he appreciated that it was a smell that could only be produced at night, and that alone made it special. It could be easily missed if you were cooped up in a cosy yet stuffy room full of bright artificial light, and yet it came at the end of every day and people either just ignored it or were scared by it.
He knew that walking at night came with dangers, but that was only because of us, mankind, and the destructive machines we call cars that occasionally speed down this stretch of road. It isn't the car that is dangerous - it is just pieces of metal, plastic and other materials crafted together to be not only functional but aesthetically pleasing – it is us, the driving force, the master behind the wheel that is dangerous.
As he breathed in quickly, the cool air took his breath away, and then he exhaled slowly, and when he glanced up and saw the millions of stars glistening above him, a shiver went down his spine. Nature was, to him, absolutely awe-inspiring. Nature was better than us, in every shape and form, and more powerful. It could easily wipe us out if it wanted to but tonight it showed a different kind of power; the power to protect, like a cocoon protects its larva.
Zack would be twenty-three in a couple of months but people often assumed he was older and wiser than his years. He tended to agree with them; most men his age were just interested in woman and booze, of dancing the night away in a club, or going to a rock concert. He had never been into any of that. Occasionally he would feel like an outsider looking in but then he remembered that he chose this life and that ultimately he made the choices, and they were the right choices.
He had already met his Mrs. Right. He and Felicity had been together for five years, and married for two. They were high school sweethearts. They met when they were both very young and nothing could tear them away from each other. Not yet, not this soon. Perhaps when they were both old and wrinkled, and had lived their lives, but definitely not yet.
Felicity also loved nature, but while she was into whales and dolphins, cats and dogs and, her personal favourite, giraffes, he was more spiritual. To him, nature wasn't just what was out there; it went deeper than that, like gentle music soothing your soul. This is why the night-time walks were so special to him.
The sounds of distant cars rumbling across the motorway set a peaceful tone. It was just background noise, barely noticeable to your ears but sensed by your unconscious mind. Trees rustled in the wind, adding depth and then there was the melody created by the nocturnal creatures – owls and nightjars and foxes permeating the air with their cacophony of calls.
He heard the very faint sound of a car in the far distance behind him. Or was it coming from in front of him? He couldn't tell. It could have been on this road, or his ears could have been playing tricks on him. Besides, if any cars came past this stretch of road, they'd surely see him, because he was wearing his hi-vis jacket.
Except he wasn't. His heart hammered in his throat when he realised his mistake. He could barely see himself as he peered down because he was wearing his black zipper sweater and his navy jeans. He was a fool to come out without it. What was he thinking about when he'd left the front door? He could remember saying to Felicity that he'd be back in about an hour and a half and stroking next door's ginger tomcat Gizmo before heading out of town. Perhaps being out here made him feel too safe; invincible.
The sound of the car was getting louder and louder but he couldn't sense the direction. The wind, although just a faint breeze, was probably changing direction and carrying the sound with it. He turned around quickly but saw nothing. After a while, the sound ebbed away and he continued to walk, keeping himself as close to the verge as he could. He rounded a corner and was suddenly blinded by the beams of a massive car that roared towards him at the speed of light. He shielded his eyes with his left arm as the sound of screeching tyres perforated the night air.
Soaring through the air, Zack had no time to react, or even think. He could feel the wind lashing against his face, once calm and relaxing and now monstrous and icy cold, and that sick feeling clawing around inside his stomach. He hit the cold, hard tarmac and lay face upwards. His legs were smashed; he didn't need to look to realise it. Pain spread like a fire from within his bones. His muscles throbbed in some places and were numb in others. He could feel a wetness ooze onto his skin. Sweat. Tears. Blood?
He closed his eyes. A moment later, he had taken his last breath.
A sudden feeling of deja-vu entered Zack's mind as he walked down the shadowy road, lit partly with moonlight and surrounded by the eerie yet soothing chorus of nocturnal animals. A fox, its call sharp and shrill. A nightjar, its chirping call resounding through the air. An owl, piercing the night air in sporadic bursts.
He had walked this road many times, day and night, come rain or shine. It was a favourite of his. But this time, something felt different. It felt too familiar like not only the route was the same, but the very essence of time itself; as if he was reliving the past.
"What the hell, Zack?" he mumbled to himself. "Stop scaring yourself."
He then realised with a sharp jolt that he wasn't wearing his hi-vis jacket. Not only that but he was wearing dark coloured clothes that rendered him almost completely invisible and left him as vulnerable as a gazelle in a lion's den to any driver passing through this stretch of road.
Still, he couldn't backtrack now. He continued down the dimly lit road and heard the all too familiar sound of a car waxing and waning as the wind changed direction. He shuddered as if sensing something inconceivably dangerous was about to happen. The hairs on his skin shot up. He clenched his entire body, waiting for something to happen.
The bright glare of headlights dazzled him. He shielded his eyes with his right arm. He clenched until it hurt, like a fighter readying himself for the blows of his opponent's punches, as if he knew that the car would hit him, as if somehow, he'd been here before. He couldn't have… could he? No. He was a sceptic. He didn't believe in magic, or ghosts, or a person with super powers able to manipulate time and space. He tried to laugh, but couldn't as the full force of the land rover hit him head on. Air blasted his body and whooshed up his nostrils as the force of the impact threw him into the air. And then there was nothing.
He was walking along the moonlit road and he should have felt secure, but something felt very wrong. His hairs stood on end, from the top of his neck all the way down his arms. His eyes glanced this way and that way like he was expecting to be ambushed and his breath came in short sporadic bursts. He likened it to a panic attack, but why here? Why now? This was his haven. He shouldn't be feeling like this.
I've been here before.
Foxes howled. Nightjars chirped. Owls tooted. Zack was deaf to it. He could sense, instead, the sound of a car zooming towards him. It echoed in the air, drummed in his ears, like it was meant to be heard above everything else. Like nothing else mattered.
It's a sign, Zack.
Realising he had left his hi-vis jacket at home, all of his thoughts and feelings about tonight connected and then shattered into a thousand pieces, like he had caught a glimpse of a dream before losing it in a split second. What was happening to him?
He rounded a corner and came face to face with the dazzling headlights of a car. It was speeding towards him so fast that he had no time to react. As his body flew through the air, he knew then what he had to do.
I've been here before. It's a lifeline. It's not my time.
Zack was back where he started. The cool air brushed against his skin. The sounds of nocturnal animals punctuated the air with their calls. But instead of feeling calm, he felt anxious, and didn't need to look down to realise his hi-vis jacket was absent. He already knew, just like he already knew that the faint sound of a car in the distance was just an illusion and that it was closer, and getting closer still.
He stopped walking and stepped onto the grassy verge. A fence obscured with climbing plants separated the road from the field on its left side. He might get cut from the thin, spindly branches but it was nothing to what would happen if he was hit by that car. He clung onto the fence and leant in as far as he could until the car zoomed past him. Wind whooshed across his skin and ruffled his hair as it sped past, and then it was gone, and he was alive.
He didn't believe in magic, but he did believe in fate. He wasn't meant to die today. He looked at the deep, dark sky and the millions of stars that his very future was written in.