Chapter Thirteen

After the Storm

Toby swallowed, and leaned forwards, peering across the parking area to where Clarissa’s car was. He could see her roof, over the low wall, pitted now with dents. Cautiously, he pushed open his door and started to stand. His foot crunched on melting hailstones, and he held the door, anxious in case he should slip. As he stood, he began to see more of Clarissa’s car. Below the dented roof, the windscreen had splintered into a spiders-web of cracks, but the shards of glass seemed to be held in place, he couldn’t see any gaps.

“Clarissa!” he called, climbing fully out of his car and testing his balance on the slippery ground. “Clarissa, are you alright?”

There was a sound from within her car, muted and distorted, so Toby couldn’t hear words. He began to walk towards her, holding onto his car for balance, his feet skidding and sliding on the ice, he reached the low wall and lurched forward, pushing his weight towards Clarissa’s car, his arms braced for a fall his eyes searching to see beyond the laced cracks of the glass. He reached the car. Inside, he could see movement, could hear Clarissa calling but all was indistinct. The glass had shattered in all the windows, so although he could discern movement, he couldn’t tell if it was an arm he was seeing or a hand. He stared at the door handle, and paused. At the moment, the glass was shattered, but still in place. If he opened the door, would the cracked shards be dislodged, and fall inside, slicing through anything they fell on? Toby considered the possibility of trying to remove the glass first, pulling away the broken pieces so they couldn’t fall. But he had no tools, nothing useful to prise the sharp pieces out of the frame.

He decided to risk opened the door and placed his hand on the handle. He looked at the window. If it should fall outwards, it would slice through the flesh of his wrist. If it fell inwards, it would cut Clarissa. He swallowed. Gradually, inch by inch, Toby depressed the handle until he heard the mechanism click open. He paused. The glass remained in place. His fingers were stiff on the handle, he daren’t let go, knew that he must softly pull the door towards him. He began to open the door. The glass shuddered, but did not fall. He inched the door towards him. He could hear Clarissa now, telling him to be careful, saying that she was okay, but please don’t let the glass fall. She had moved into the far seat, but was still in range should the glass fall. Toby could almost feel her eyes on him, he held his breath, waited a second, moved the door another inch, paused. The glass shivered, held, shivered again. Toby exhaled, sucked in his lips, edged the door further open, pulling it towards him, until at last, there was a big enough gap for Clarissa to squeeze through. She slid from the car, he took her arm, they moved to a safe place, sliding over the icy ground, then stood, staring at the little pink car with the shattered windows.

“Where did that storm come from?” said Clarissa after a while.

Toby shook his head. “I have no idea. It would make the roads treacherous though, I wonder how the cars on the training track managed.”

He looked down. Clarissa’s voice sounded hollow, as if she was making a supreme effort to sound normal, and when he looked at her, she lifted frightened eyes to stare back.

“Do you think. . .” she whispered, “do you think my car is so damaged that. . .” she stopped, and a sob escaped.

Toby moved closer and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “No,” he said.

“But it might be,” whispered Clarissa. “It might be so badly damaged that I am called to the real track. And I’m not ready, I haven’t really trained properly, I won’t be issued with anything decent to drive, I’m not ready. . .”

“No,” said Toby again, and pulled her closer. He looked across at her car. It appeared somehow blind, with all the windows smashed – like eyes covered with cataracts. He shook his head, convincing himself that he was right.

“Think of how damaged some of those cars were in the broken cars training area. They were in a right state some of them, and yet they had been repaired and the drivers were still training. You’ve hardly arrived Clarissa, the Engineer won’t call you to the real track yet, I’m sure he won’t.

“Your car looks a mess,” he admitted. “But I’m sure it can be repaired. It’s only surface damage really, just a bit of glass.”

He looked at her again and tried to smile.

“You wait here,” he said. “I’ll go and find a mechanic, someone who can tell you the best way to get your car repaired. It might take me a while, I expect there are loads of cars damaged by that storm, but I will come back as soon as I can. You can wait next to the beach, it’s pretty there, a nice place to sit for a while. You’ll feel better in a minute, I expect it’s just the shock.”

Clarissa nodded, and Toby felt her take a breath and straighten. He wasn’t sure if she believed him – he wasn’t sure if he believed himself – but he very much wanted it to be true. He gave her a last hug, and went back to his car.

As Toby drove from the car park, he glanced in his rear view mirror. He could see Clarissa’s car, jagged shards of glass hanging in every window, and Clarissa, walking with hunched shoulders towards the beach. There was something defeated in her stance. Then he looked forwards, and concentrated on where he was going.

Chapter Fourteen

Trying to Find Help and What Happened to Percy

Toby drove slowly, his wheels crunching over the remaining hailstones, leaning forwards in his seat so he could look for patches of ice. A couple of times he felt his back wheels spin as he turned corners, but nothing he couldn’t bring back under control. He was heading for the entrance to the Special Features training area, to where he had seen a line of mechanic stations.

It was just after a particularly sharp bend that the man stopped him. Toby had again felt his rear wheels slip, had fought to turn the steering wheel back on track and keep from sliding to the edge of the road, when he saw the man, standing right in the centre of the road, waving madly. Toby depressed the brake pedal, remembering to press it gradually, to not brake hard and go into a skid, to adjust the steering bit by bit, until he was safely at the side of the road. His car stopped, and he started to get out.

Toby was now slightly beyond the man, who had turned, and was running towards him, slipping on the icy road, his arms waving, his face red as he fought to stay upright.

“You’re Toby, right?—One of Percy’s trainees?—You have to come.—Right now—Toby?—You’re Toby?”

His shouts came between breaths, forced through the wintry air, clipped and urgent.

Toby frowned. He really did not have time for this. Whatever Percy wanted to say could wait until he had sent a mechanic to help Clarissa.

“I can’t come right now,” Toby shouted back, turning back to his car. “I have to find a mechanic first.”

The man had reached Toby. Toby realised he was from the brown training area, his brown overalls were as tatty as his car, and were blotched with patches of oil. The pocket was ragged where it had torn, and the knees were worn thin. The man was shaking his head.

“No, you should come now, really you should. There are things you need to know —important things. Honestly, come now. It will help your friend more later if you come now. Trust me. . .”

Toby was not sure that he did trust the man. He was, after all, from the brown area. But there was something urgent about his red face, and his eyes were kind as well as determined, and Toby realised that the man had risked skidding and crashing in order to find him, and so maybe, maybe, Toby should trust him and go to find Percy. He stood still, thinking about Clarissa, and whether her car could be mended, and how she was waiting for him; weighing it in his mind with the urgency of the brown driver, and the suggestion that he would help Clarissa more if he found Percy first.

“Okay,” he said at last, his heart unwilling, “I’ll come.”

Toby followed the battered brown car along the wide roads of the Special Features training area, and out into the narrower link roads. They drove as fast as the conditions would allow, their wheels skidding over icy patches, the windscreens misting with their breath, the wet roads hissing beneath them. The roads became narrower, and they turned sharply into the brown training area. Toby parked in one of the narrow spaces, barely registering that he could now manage to park in a single move, and hurried to follow the brown driver. They walked under the deformed trunks of leafless trees to a wide area of mud and sparse tufts of grass. Percy was standing next to his car, and looked up as Toby approached.

“Ah, Toby! Just in time I think.”

Toby looked at Percy’s car. Each window had shattered, and a wheel had fallen from the front, the wing crumpled. It looked as if he had driven hard into something solid, and the old car looked beyond repair.

“Why are you here?” said Toby, wanting to know before Percy left why he had chosen to train with the brown drivers. “Do you think this is the best training area? Even with all the restrictions and nastiness?”

Percy shook his head. “As I told you before Toby, you can choose where to train, it is possible in any area, you simply need to find the best place for you. I came here long ago, because I realised that these drivers needed a little help, they were all trying so hard, and yet they still missed the point. I felt I could help them.”

“But you stayed so long!” said Toby, the words escaping before he could adjust them to something less blunt. “Don’t you think a different area might have got you good enough for the real track sooner?”

“Ah. No Toby. It’s not about being ‘good enough.’ We’re never good enough, we simply have to do our very best to improve. I realised that I needed to stay here, to be a mentor. I had an understanding you see, with the Engineer. I had something to offer, I could help the other drivers, and so I stayed. But I think I can go now. . .”

His voice trailed off, and he looked, past Toby, and smiled.

Toby spun round. There was a line of men standing, smiling at Percy. Their long grey hair was moving in the breeze, their eyes shone with welcome, and one of them stepped forwards, as if he was going to speak to Percy. Toby turned back, to ask Percy who they were—

Percy had gone. The place he had stood was empty, only his car remained. When Toby looked back, the line of men had gone too.

“Who were they?”

Toby was joined by another driver, his overalls were purple, and he had black curly hair. “Who were those men?”

Toby shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“Am I too late?” said the purple driver, looking around. “Percy was my mentor, I came to say goodbye. Did I miss him?”

Toby nodded. “Yes, I think so. I think he has gone.”

He turned to the purple driver.

“I was never sure why he was still here anyway, why his driving wasn’t good enough for the real track. I did wonder whether perhaps he’d never be good enough, never get there.”

The purple driver was shaking his head, his eyes worried.

“But it’s not about being good enough,” he said, repeating what Percy had said a few minutes ago. “We don’t have to train to be good enough to enter, the entry fee has already been sorted, by the Engineer. That’s why we’re here, at the training ground—because we’ve been chosen. No no, we’ll all get there eventually, but it’s up to us how ready we are, that’s the point of why we train. That’s what we’re here for.” His face creased into a frown. “But didn’t you know that already? Didn’t Percy explain that when you arrived?”

“Not really,” said Toby, trying to remember. “At least, I don’t think he did.”

“Are you going to stay?” asked the purple driver, nodding towards Percy’s broken car, which stood abandoned next to them. “I know that Percy wouldn’t care, he doesn’t need it anymore. But I think I might stay until it’s taken by the crusher. It feels, I don’t know, sort of respectful. Will you stay too?”

“Yes,” said Toby, hoping that it would be quick. He really needed to get back to Clarissa, but he felt it would be wrong to simply leave Percy’s car in the middle of the mud.

As they stood there, waiting for the crusher to arrive, the wind gradually dropped, and the sun slid from the clouds. Sunbeams danced on the broken glass, and a warmth spread over the muddy field. Other drivers arrived, their clothes showing they were from various training areas. Some wore brown overalls, some were dressed in colours, some were older drivers, some looked as new as Toby; all said that Percy had been their mentor, they were coming to say goodbye.

Eventually the crusher arrived, engine roaring, wheels dwarfing the abandoned brown car. The drivers began to whisper, quietly, as if not sure that the words mattered, but wanting to say something, wanting to mark the occasion somehow: “From metal you came, from metal you return. . .”

Anne E. Thompson
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Chapter Ten

A Trip to the Cinema

Toby found Clarissa and persuaded her that they should both visit Percy. Clarissa had been angry, and then upset, and finally simply quietly sad – which Toby thought was perhaps the worst – but she agreed to go with him and listen. Toby had his own questions for his mentor, and he wanted to know why Gerald had been taken to the real track when he clearly had not been ready, and whether Toby would see him again when he reached the real track himself. They found Percy, as ever, in the refreshment tent.

Percy was standing as they approached, reaching for his coat, obviously about to leave. Toby hurried over.

“Percy, hello, please can we talk?”

Percy stopped, and smiled a greeting.

“Hello Toby, Clarissa, I wasn’t expecting to see you today. How are you? Everything going okay?”

“No!” said Toby, pulling out a chair and sitting down. He gestured for Clarissa to join him and looked up at Percy. “We need to talk. It’s serious.”

“Our friend Gerald has gone,” added Clarissa. “And we miss him.” She flopped down into the chair next to Toby, all the energy gone out of her.

Percy nodded, but did not sit.

“Ah yes, I had heard about that.”

Toby wondered how Percy could possibly have heard so quickly, and was about to ask, but Percy was still speaking.

“There are many things which are hard to understand, lots to cope with while you train, so many distractions and difficult situations. . .” Percy was staring at the ceiling of the refreshment tent, and Toby wondered if he had forgotten what they had told him. Was his mentor senile? Percy gave himself a small shake, and looked back at Toby, as if it was an effort and he preferred to be lost in whatever thoughts were dancing round his head.

“Now then Toby, I do not have time, right at this very moment, to explain things properly. In fact, even if I did, I doubt if I could make you understand. No, what you and Clarissa should do I think. . .” he paused as if considering, then nodded his head, the grey hair bobbing up and down, his long turkey-like neck bending and folding. “Yes, what I believe you should do, right now, is go to the cinema in the special features area.

“You know where it is?”

Clarissa nodded, looking as confused as Toby felt.

“Yes, that is what you must do,” continued Percy. He reached into his jacket pocket, and pulled out a fat round watch on a long gold chain, squinting as he consulted the face. “Ah yes, as I thought, there is a film showing in just a few minutes, you have time, if you are quick.” He folded the watch back into his pocket and smiled at Toby, showing long yellow teeth. “You will feel better after watching the film, I guarantee it, and it will make it so much easier to explain things to you afterwards.

“Yes, you watch the film, I will meet you here afterwards. Then we will talk.”

Without waiting for an answer, Percy pushed his arms into the sleeves of his long brown coat, and waked    from the tent, leaning heavily on his stick. Toby watched him leave, wondering how someone could possibly bear to move so slowly. He turned to Clarissa.

“Not quite what I was hoping for,” he said.

Clarissa was looking cross, her face folded into a frown, her lips pursed.

“I don’t think your mentor is much of a mentor at all,” she said. “I wonder why they gave you one.”

Toby sat up a little straighter, thinking that is sounded – although she hadn’t actually said it – that Clarissa thought Toby must be a very poor driver indeed in order to need a mentor who was clearly substandard.

“I don’t know,” he said, his voice tight. “Shall we go to this film? Do you know where the cinema is?”

Clarissa nodded. “Might as well,” she said sounding dismissive. “At least it’s in the special features area. I might decide to stay there afterwards, I’m beginning to wish that I’d never left.” She stood up, and without so much as glancing at Toby, led the way from the tent. He followed, a whole muddle of confusion and anger and defensiveness buzzing in his stomach, so that he was feeling rather like he might be sick. This was  turning out to be a completely terrible day, and he wished he had stayed in bed.


The cinema was right in the centre of the special features area. Toby followed Clarissa through wide golden gates, along smooth roads, to a car park. The roads were lined with trees and flowers, and birds were flying overhead.

Parking was easy, as there were sensors to help guide the car into a space. When Toby opened his door, the air was filled with perfume, and mingled with the sound of birds there was music, and very far away, he could hear someone laughing. A man walked past, and he smiled at Toby, congratulating him on his parking.

“Well done, well done, you managed to park in a single manoeuvre,” he said as he walked away. It was, Toby thought, a complete opposite to everything he had experienced in the brown training area.

Clarissa joined him, her eyes hooded. Toby realised that she was there under protest, she did not seem to trust Percy but a loyalty to Toby was prompting her to stay with him. He was grateful, and squeezed her arm.

“Thanks for coming,” he whispered.

Clarissa nodded, but didn’t reply.

They walked together, along a pathway lined with flowers and trees, following flashing signs that directed them to the cinema. The cinema was set in a small hollow, a low round building that resembled a spaceship, a silvery domed roof and curved doors that opened as they approached. Inside, the air was cool and perfumed with cinnamon. Their footsteps were muffled by a thick green carpet, and they followed a line of drivers into the auditorium and took seats near the back. Some drivers were carrying tubs of popcorn, fat beakers of drink, long bars of chocolate. Toby considered asking Clarissa if she would like something to eat, but a glance at her stony face reminded him that she wasn’t here for pleasure, she was prepared to endure the experience, but nothing else.

The lights dimmed, and the curtains across the screen folded back. Toby was aware of Clarissa relaxing slightly, comfortable in the dark, and he felt her move slightly lower in her seat. He wondered if he might hold her hand, but worried she might snatch it away, so he folded his arms and stared at the screen.

The film began by showing the relationship develop between a mentor and a new driver. The new driver reminded Toby of himself, the way his car lurched when he started, the apparent difficulty he had turning corners and the impossibility of parking in a marked space. Toby chuckled, and beside him he heard Clarissa giggle too, which made him smile. The mentor in the film was younger than Percy, with long hair tied back in a pony-tail, and a tight tee-shirt. He clearly cared for his protégé, and offered several driving tips, which Toby took note of, thinking he might apply them in real life.

The film then changed pace. The protégé managed to get entangled in the car crusher when it came to dispose of a redundant training car, and was carried away. The action switched to the mentor, who was told what had happened and decided to rush to the rescue. Toby watched as the mentor ran to his car, the soundtrack to the film had changed, the music fast and tense. The mentor drove towards where the crusher went, his wheels spinning on corners, fingers tight on the steering wheel, expression anxious. The mentor reached down to a button on the dashboard, and Toby saw wings stretch out on either side of the car, there was a spurt of pink exhaust smoke, and the car rose into the air.

Toby watched the screen, entranced. The car was flying, over the road, through the clouds, then above them, the camera showing a clear blue sky and sun glinting on fluffy white mountains of cloud that appeared solid. The car continued to rise, higher and higher, until it was bursting through the earth’s atmosphere and spinning into space. Round and round the car spun, higher and higher. It orbited planets, avoided meteorites, chased shooting stars. The soundtrack had changed to something melodic, beautiful tunes filling the cinema, while on the screen the mentor floated through space. Toby was sitting up straight, his mouth open, wondering whether what he was seeing was possible, whether there were cars and drivers in real life capable of such feats.

The film changed again, the tense music returned, heavy beats and loud drums while the mentor located his protégé and extracted him from the jaws of the crusher. Softer music filled the room while the mentor led his protégé back to earth, showed him how to use the flying mechanism of his car to navigate space, slowed when he seemed in danger of crashing, led him home. The film ended with them both landing back on earth, the pale protégé thanking his mentor, the sun shining from behind a cloud, the wings folded back inside the cars.

Toby sat back in his seat and exhaled.

“Wow!” he said, turning to Clarissa, “Do you think any of that is even slightly possible? The flying bit I mean, the whizzing through space. Are there cars that can do that?”

Clarissa looked at him, and Toby saw her face had relaxed into a smile and she was sitting back in her chair, eyes shining.

“I hope so.”

They left the cinema, not speaking but walking close together, letting their eyes adjust to daylight as they left the domed building, feeling the fresh air cold on their cheeks. Walking back to their cars, Toby felt he wanted to say something, to ask whether Clarissa felt better, whether going to see the film had been a good idea. But he said nothing. He wanted her to confirm that Percy had given wise advice, needed to know that he could trust his mentor, learn from him. But he knew that if he asked Clarissa her opinion, she might not say what he wanted to hear, so it was safest not to ask. He wondered again about taking her hand, but that felt risky too, so Toby shoved his fists deep into his pockets and walked back to his car in silence.


Find out what Percy tells them tomorrow.

Anne E. Thompson
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