Friday, 10 April 2020

The Learner and the Jinn



by  Mason Bushell

a strong brandy 

A midnight-blue Fiesta pulled up at Leon’s house. It bore a red ‘L’ on a white background upon the door panel and bonnet. That simple symbol filled him and many other people with dread. It meant he had to go on his driving lesson. Several sessions in, Leon and the car still did not understand each other. Leaving the house, he walked down the garden path beneath cloudy skies. His face was tense with concern; his legs like jelly. He took a breath and stepped onto the pavement right in front of a cyclist. He slammed on the brakes hit Leon’s shoes and flew over the handlebars with a metallic crash.
“I… I’m, so sorry,” Leon managed having bent to retrieve the bike.
“You, blithering twit. Look where you’re going!”
“Sorry, I have to take my driving lesson. I’m nervous.” Leon noticed the man bore the logo of the City Zoo, with his name Billy Flanders on his green polo shirt. “Are you hurt?”
“Bloody hell, if you drive as well as you walk - we’re all in trouble. I better alert the emergency service in advance.” Billy rubbed a hand over his greying hair for a moment.
“I said, I’m sorry. You, going to be okay?”
“It’s okay. I’m fine.” He breathed before getting on his bike and peddling away. Leon shook his head and stepped forward again. It was then something crunched beneath his feet. Stooping, he scooped a large silver coin from the ground. It showed the image of a horned creature engulfed in flames and was like nothing he’d ever seen before.
“Afternoon, Leon. Come on or I’ll be late for my next appointment at this rate,” called Dave Goodwin, the driving instructor sat in the passenger’s seat.
“Hello, sorry.” Leon walked around to the driver’s seat and slipped inside. As he got comfortable, he looked to the coin in his hand. This time he saw and read the incantation around the mystical looking demon. “Hmm no value, must be a talisman,” he mumbled as he put the coin in his pocket and put his seat-belt on.  
“You okay?” Dave asked, looking through his black-rimmed glasses at his student. His eyebrows furrowed almost out of sight behind them.
“Yeah, thanks. Just need to calm down a bit.” Leon adjusted the seat and mirrors and took a calming breath.
“Okay, start the car when you’re ready and proceed. Keep it nice and slow to begin with, please.”
“Start when I’m ready…” Leon looked at him. “Can you come back in summer then?”
Dave grinned. “You’ll be alright in a minute. Off you go.”
Leon started up, made to engage the indicator and swore as the window wipers came on instead. “Wrong lever.” Correcting it, he crunched into first gear and pulled away. The car jerked about as he failed to get the clutch and accelerator working in harmony. Neither student or instructor noticed the increasing warmth and light behind them.
“It’s okay, calm yourself a little. We’ll go left at the end and drive about a bit, to begin with,” Dave directed. His attention was taken by groaning and complaining noises, coming from behind him. He looked over his shoulder in time to see a five-inch-tall figure with red skin and spiky flame-red hair squeeze out from between the rear seats. The little man thumped onto the cushion and sat up looking rather fed-up.
“Alright, which one of you, insensitive gits, summoned me into the boot?” he complained while straightening out his police-issue navy shorts, and aviator sunglasses.
“Waa! What in the world are you?” Dave’s voice became squeaky with shock.
“Dave, I’m turning left, what’s going on?” Leon indicated and prepared to manoeuvre the car.
“I’m a Jaa!” The car swung to the left throwing the little man off the seat. He slammed into the side window and fell into the door pocket. “Cor, drive slower. This is a car, not a bloody roller coaster, man,” he complained in a muffled voice from the depths.
“Dave?” Leon was struggling to keep his eyes on the road with the events unfolding in the car.
“It’s okay. Pull up by the hedge over there, and stop.” Dave ordered.
“As I was saying. I’m a Jinn. One of you must have summoned me.”  The Jinn had floated out of the door pocket. Leon saw him and the car lurched forward. The Jinn gulped and shut his eyes. Leon had pulled the car around a parked van, seen the Jinn, panicked, and stomped the accelerator instead of the brake. The car hurtled at the hedge at an alarming speed. Leon panicked as he wrenched at the steering wheel trying to avoid the foliage. The move caused the vehicle to spin out with a screech of tyres, and smash through a fence in an explosion of flowers, earth and grass. The Jinn rocketed through the air impacting the windscreen, and Dave swore as he stopped the car on the damaged lawn.
“Phew, I said to stop by the hedge, not mow it down, you idiot!” Dave’s knuckles were white from gripping onto the dashboard; his face matched through fearing for his life.
“Have you looked out the window.” remarked the Jinn staggering out from a pile of instructor’s paperwork on the dashboard. He took off his broken sunglasses and repaired them with a click of his fingers. “You said park by the hedge and this car is six-inches from it, right now. Next time be more specific if you want it to remain on the road.”
“Shut up.” Dave glared at the little man.
“The talisman.” Leon realised. “I must have summoned you.”
The Jinn slapped a hand to his forehead. “I was afraid you might say that. Even I can’t make that driving better.”
“Sorry, about that. I don’t suppose you can fix the garden like you did your glasses, can you?” Leon asked.
“That’d be nice.” Dave agreed. He was noticeably forcing his body back in his seat to keep away from the strange fellow.
The Jinn looked out the window and sighed. “That I can do. reverse the car back through the fence you annihilated and get it back on the road - without demolishing anything else if at all possible! Then leave the rest to me.”
Leon saw the Jinn vanish in a puff of red smoke. He restarted the car and very slowly reversed back. Nasty crunches and thuds came from the wheels as he crushed everything further on the way out. The Jinn reappeared on the warm bonnet as it stopped on the road. Both instructor and learner watched him go through a series of sparkle-inducing hand gestures. The lawn regrew, the fence mended itself and the flowers reappeared healthier than they were before. Happy with his work, the Jinn returned to the dashboard looking pleased with himself.
 “Did you fix the car?” Dave asked.
“I did.” The Jinn looked to Leon. “Don’t bloody well break it again, will you.”
“I didn’t mean to.” The learner looked at his feet in guilty fashion.
“Thanks to our new friend, no harm done. Proceed down the road; no more than twenty-five miles per hour would be nice.” Dave instructed.
“You know,” began the Jinn sitting crossed-leg beside the instructor’s clipboard on the dash. “I was with another driver once. He said – ‘if a car is going slower than he, the driver is a plank. If the car is going faster than him, he is an absolute nutter.’ - What do you reckon, Dave?”
“Just shut up, will you. Leon pulled into the ca park. We’ll try some parking manoeuvres.”
“Oh boy. I’ll be in the glove box.” The Jinn promptly vanished as the car entered the supermarket car park. Leon followed his instructions and headed for a quieter section.
            “Right, draw past the red car on the right, then reverse back. Apply full-lock to the right and straighten as you park alongside the car. Finish neatly between the lines of your bay if you can.”
“Ok.” Leon took a deep breath and moved the car into position. “Reverse back, turning on full—” The glove box dropped open with a thud.
“Before you obliterate that car, I have to know something.” The Jinn strode out with a black lace G-string hanging from his hand and a big grin on his face. “Dave, is this your spare pair for when learners scare the crap out of you or are you doing after-hours driving lessons of a different kind?” 
Dave’s face flushed to a colour close to beetroot. “That's my wife’s. Put it away, now, please.”
“Oh, really? Why don’t I believe you, hmm?” The Jinn tilted his head and raised his eyebrows in a cynical way, then vanished as the instructor slammed the glove-box flap shut on him.
“Rude, little swine. Erm… do carry on, Leon.”
“Okay, and I won’t tell your wife.” Leon grinned as he began parking the car.
“You can button it an’ all,” Dave remarked.
Leon just smiled as he completed the parking manoeuvre a few times with reasonable success before driving on again.

The Fiesta was soon heading along a nice straight and empty road. Leon was feeling a little calmer now.
“Okay, this road is perfect. Keep it at thirty miles per hour, then when I give the signal, you must halt the car in a nice smooth emergency stop. Do that by pressing the foot-brake and clutch to the floor at the same time while remaining in control,” Dave instructed.
 “That means, bring the car to a standstill without hitting everything in sight,” put in the Jinn, who was sitting on the dashboard again.
“I’ll do my best.” Leon gripped the wheel a little tighter; he was nervous again. His eyes moved between the road and speedometer with regularity. He passed houses and trees at a fair speed and then whack. The instructor’s hand hit the dashboard. Leon slammed the brake and clutch to the floor. The tyres screeched and the Jinn shot between the seats. The instructor’s clipboard hit him in the face and the car stopped dead.
“Good job, Leon. Carry on when ready.” The instructor sat rubbing his nose as his student restarted the car. He always forgot to grab the board before the car stopped.
“You call that a good job, what was good about that? He turned me into a ballistic missile!” the Jinn grumbled as he freed himself from the rear seat-belt.
“At least he stopped the car without hitting anything,” Dave remarked.
“Yeah, I suppose he did.” The Jinn returned to the dashboard. “So, from now on, if you hear anyone screaming, see anything hurtling toward you or Dave covers his head and yells - ‘AHHHHH! You idiot you’re going to kill someone!’ - Hahmm, you perform the emergency stop.” 
“I get the message.” Leon followed instruction and made a right turn onto the main road now. Joining the traffic, he negotiated the lights and picked up speed again.
“You did well. Let’s head towards your home now.” Dave began doing his paperwork as his student drove on.
“I realise you still haven’t told me why you summoned me,” said the Jinn watching where the car was going. His keen senses told him something was happening ahead.
“Er, I didn’t summon you for any reason.” Leon could hear sirens now. He was coming up to a roundabout too. “I just read your talisman and it seems you appeared in the boot. Sorry about that by the way.”
“No harm done. Slow down though, something's happening ahead.”
“Take the third exit,” Dave directed without looking up. The Jinn was no longer sitting. He was standing with his hands on the windshield. Through the long grass on the roundabout, he could just pick out the blue lights of a police car. Leon could hear it but was so focused on the traffic that he hadn’t seen it.
“I’d stop for a moment, if I were you,” the Jinn advised.
“It’s quite clear.” Leon pulled into the round-about, a black van roared round it the wrong way. The Jinn swore and flinched as the van side-swiped a car with a hollow, crunching bang. It swung onto the verge and fell still. The van was now bearing down on the learner car. Leon yelled, punched the accelerator and spun the steering-wheel hard away. The car shot forward thundering up the curb of the roundabout, there it thumped into the central mound and bounced into the air. The van slewed off the road, slammed into a lamppost and rolled onto its side; a smoking wreck. Dave screamed as the car crashed back to earth in an explosion of soil, debris and flying hubcaps. The Jinn hit the ceiling and fell between the seats.

Leon saw the windscreen crack as his vision filled with long grasses and incoming vehicles on the other side of the roundabout. “I can’t steer or stop!” he yelled while wrestling uselessly with the steering wheel. 
“Don’t panic,” said the Jinn in a drunken voice from beneath him.
“Panic, we’re going to die you fool,” yelled Dave holding on for dear life.
The Jinn rose in front of the shattered windscreen and grew wide-eyed. “Ahh! Oh, no—we’re-going-to-CRAASH!”
“Hey, now who’s panicking,” remarked Leon still trying wrestle back control but getting nowhere.
“I wasn’t panicking, I was using screaming as a way to control my emotion.” The Jinn waved a hand causing a police car to spin harmlessly out of the way. The leaner car regained the road in a hail of blaring horns, and screeching brakes. It hit the back of a sedan, spun back off the road and slammed into a tree with a horrendous engine-killing crack. The car stopped so suddenly that the Jinn sailed through the broken windscreen amid a shower of paperwork and disappeared into the foliage.
“Well, we’re not dead,” said Leon holding his head.
“I am when my boss sees my car.” Dave was pale and sounded as if he were in pain.
“Er, yeah. Sorry about that.” Leon tried to restart the car. It whirred, coughed some black smoke and burst into flames. “Oh, crap!” he managed with a dumb look on his face. Through the smoke, he saw the Jinn blunder out of the bush.
“There’s no time to poop. Get out of the bloody car!” The Jinn ordered having jumped into the air. He sent sparks flying as he cast a spell. Clouds rolled in and it began to rain extinguishing the fire in a cloud of acrid black smoke.
“You saved us, Jinn,” Leon said a few moments later. Emergency services vehicles were parked everywhere and the situation much calmer.
“No, I just stopped you killing us. My advice is, never drive a vehicle again. You’re a living health hazard. The road is full of maniacs, and who wants to spend two-thirds of their hard-earned wages on flipping car insurance, anyway?”
“Oh, do you drive where you come from then?” asked Dave.
“No, and after today; I’m extremely pleased about that.” The Jinn rose into the air. “I’m leaving before you get behind the wheel again. Oh, I hope, I get a nice easy job next time!” he said before vanishing into thin air. 

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