Anthony Self’s New Short Story – Stuck in Traffic




Unlike the two million, eight hundred and sixty three thousand participants behind him, Spencer stood a real chance of winning the race now.

He didn’t know how long he’d been in the tunnel but it felt like days. He wiggled forward, spurred on by the notion that he was alive and nearing his destination – his goal. At the beginning, when there had nearly been three million of them, he cowered behind a deluge of bigger and infinitely more powerful racers; each one boasting they would be the first to the finishing line and divulging what they would eventually become.

The beginning. It seemed so long ago now and Spencer was exhausted, but he persevered; it was going to be one of his traits when he finished, he knew that. Smart. Calculated.

In the dark tunnel, Spencer remembered how it all started. There had been a sudden searing light and he’d felt like a thousand suns had scorched him whole. He and the others shot out of the cannon like missiles. It spoke only once, and he and the other three million had been the answer. He figured they lost about a million racers right then. Many had overshot the tunnel – their trajectory all wrong. Others missed the mark and fell into space; likely embedded and left to die in the thick corrosive atmosphere beyond. He didn’t know the exact science of it, but he was sure that if they ended up anywhere outside the passageway mere minute remained before they withered and died. He was one of the lucky ones. He had made it in with little resistance, behind the bigger racers; the ones that would probably be athletes or runners if they won.

Another couple of thousand died instantly once they entered the tunnel. The walls were as toxic as the world outside; lined with corrosive acids and danger. They were all streamlined in one direction, bounced from wall to wall. Spencer had shut out the screams and cries of pain; focused on the path ahead; trying to avoid being crushed under the force of the other eager candidates.

Cunning. He knew his diminutive frame would be working against him in the race so he lurked behind the bigger contenders. They were the ones that took the brunt of the harsh environment around him, and as he had predicted, the ones that dropped like flies and fell away into the abyss.

“Hi,” a voice chirped.

Spencer had been so lost in his thoughts he failed to notice the other racer beside him, wriggling forward with aplomb.

“Hi yourself.” He said flatly. No time to converse. There was only the goal. Obsessive.

“I’m Jenny. I’m going to be a teacher when I win.” She said with demure pragmatism.

“That’s nice.”

“I hear that when the winner crosses the threshold, a type of enzyme is released and all the other racers die.” Her stoic, rational nature was irritating Spencer.

“Really?” Insincerity. Sarcasm. Not great attributes.

“That’s what I hear.”

“I better push on, then.” He wriggled faster, inching ahead of Jenny. Shortly, the tunnel opened into a cavernous open area. He didn’t fall as anticipated, but floated ahead as if underwater. There were hundreds of racers ahead, and Spencer felt crestfallen. Susceptible to rejection.

“The current will take us forward while they struggle on,” purred Jenny. “They’ll lose all their energy and won’t be able to make the final push.”

Spencer wondered if she was lying, some sort of game plan perhaps, but soon realised she wasn’t wading forward. She was right; they were being pulled along perfectly in the direction they wanted to go.

“Save your energy.” She said.

“Why are you helping me?”

“Like I said, I want to be a teacher. I’ve just given my first lesson.” She darted ahead and he felt a stab of emasculation. All this time he’d been valiantly thrusting ahead but only now realised how exhausted he was. Feigned nonchalance.

He drifted slightly, letting other racers pass him by and soon enough he caught up with Jenny.

“Do you know the story of the frog and the scorpion?” he asked coolly. Charmer.

Jenny shook her head.

“One day, a scorpion comes across a frog at a lake. The scorpion asks the frog to carry him across the water. ‘But you’ll sting me as soon as I let you climb onto my back,’ the frog cries.                               ‘What good would that do me?’ the scorpion retorts, ‘you’ll drown and we’ll both die.’ Assured by that logic, the frog agrees to carry the scorpion on his back across the river.”

Jenny hadn’t said anything, so Spencer knew he had her attention. He paused for dramatic effect. They carried on floating in the traffic with the other racers and Spencer looked around at the other racers flailing about in the current.

Jenny snapped his attention back. “What happened then?”

“Halfway across the steam, the scorpion digs its stinger deep into the frog’s back. As the Frog becomes paralysed and starts to sink into the cold water, he gasps one final word: ‘Why?’ Just before the scorpion shares the frog’s fate, he says, “It’s my nature.”

Letting that sink in, Spencer used his trajectory and rammed Jenny to the side. She crashed into another racer and the current did the rest, sending her spinning out of control. He didn’t wait to hear her scream as she sunk into the chasm below. He carried on. Obsessive.

Soon enough, there it was – the endgame. He could feel the pulse of the orb reverberating against the passing walls. There were others, trying to break through the shell, but he knew he would win. He was smart. He was cold. It was his nature. Machiavelli.





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