Coasting up That Hill

(800 words)
“Not wishing to doubt you Sue, but cars can’t coast uphill, get real!” So said Spencer Schneider, generally regarded as the class ‘nerd.’
“Come on Spence, she says it happened. You calling her a liar?” Johnny Serpa’s tone was hostile.
“No.” There was a hesitation in Spencer’s voice. “I’m just saying there has to be a scientific explanation.”
“Scientific explanation my arse!” retorted Johnny.
“Come on boys, cool it. There’s a simple way to find out. We’ll just drive out there tonight,” said my sister, Sue. Six years older than me, she was infinitely more sensible than Johnny, good friend that he was. I was inclined to believe her, whatever the explanation.
“On whose wheels?” I asked pragmatically.
“Jojo’ll drive us,” said Sue, speaking of her boyfriend.
“Have you asked him then?” asked Johnny.
She smiled enigmatically. “No, but I’ll … make it worth his while.”
We didn’t enquire further.
So that evening Jojo pulled up at the house to pick me and Sue up.
“Don’t you ever wash your car,” Sue exclaimed. “It’s filthy!”
“Look, d’you want a lift or don’t you?” he snapped.
He collected Spencer and Johnny, and then as we set off, Spencer asked, “What exactly happened, Sue?”
“Well, I was with my friend Olivia. She was driving us back from friends in Manchester and our normal route was closed for roadworks. We had to take a detour. Well, we were going up this hill and the engine just cut out, it was really weird. She put the car into neutral and it started moving of its own accord!”
“I’ve heard of this,” Spencer replied, “it’s an urban legend, supposedly the ghosts of a bunch of school kids are supposed to push the car up the hill.”
“What in Hell’s name are you on about?!” exclaimed Jojo.
“Well, at the top of the hill, there’s a junction.” Sue took over. “A bus full of kids crashed into a petrol tanker. It went up in flames and most of them got burnt alive. They were the lucky ones.”
We all fell silent, horrified.
Then Johnny laughed, “It’s rubbish, a bullshit story made up to scare kids!”
Spencer continued. “Some people say there’s a magnetic deposit that attracts the vehicles up the hill, but it’s not. It’s just an optical illusion. It looks like you’re going uphill but you’re actually going downhill!”
“That don’t make sense!” retorted Johnny.
“Look, let’s just wait and see, shall we?” said Sue. “It’s just off the road to Redcliffe. I have the coordinates from Olivia’s satnav.”
Jojo pulled into the side of the road and programmed in the coordinates. “Clever stuff nowadays!” he remarked.
Presently the satnav directed us onto a smaller forest road. The sun was sinking and it was growing dark.
“You have reached your destination,” said the satnav, as we arrived at the foot of a gradual hill.
“Is this it?” asked Jojo.
“Yeah, I think so,” said Sue excitedly, “I remember that funny little bridge we just came over.”
Jojo turned the satnav off and stopped the car. “Are you sure?”
Sue continued, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure. At the top, we join a bigger road. There’s a Stop sign.”
“Shame the kids’ bus driver didn’t see it then!” laughed Johnny.
No one else felt like laughing. We all got out. It sure seemed like any normal hill.
“Come on, let’s go,” said Jojo.
We all got back into the car and Jojo started up the hill. Suddenly the engine conked out.
“Jesus Christ!” Jojo exclaimed.
“Just a coincidence … probably,” said Spencer.
Jojo put the car into neutral and it began to roll uphill.
“There, I told you!” Sue laughed.
“Hang on, I think I know what’s happening,” said Spencer. ”It’s an illusion. The trees aren’t straight. We’re actually going downhill.”
“What the hell are you on about, man,” snapped Jojo.
“There was a meteorite strike hereabouts. It bent all the trees.”
We reached the Stop sign. The main road was empty. Jojo stopped the car again and we all got out. Looking back the way we came it was hard to tell if it was uphill or downhill if you screened the trees out of your view.
“Look, we’ll come back tomorrow and test it out properly,” said Jojo.
He put a CD on and we relaxed, listening to Steely Dan’s Aja. After a few miles, there was a petrol station. Jojo pulled in. “We’re running low on petrol.”
I got out to go and buy some M&Ms. I craved chocolate for some reason. The others got out to stretch their legs. Suddenly there was a scream. “Oh my God, look at this!” Sue stood pointing, her hand shaking. In the bright station lights, we could see little handprints all over the dirt on the boot.

Please note: This story was first published as Gravity Hill on 12th August 2017 and is featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories

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