Thursday, July 20, 2017

It was just past three a.m. when Mr Ketchum drove past the sign that read Zachry: pop. 67. He groaned. Another in an endless string of Maine seaside towns. He closed his eyes hard a second, then opened them again and pressed down on the accelerator. The Ford surged forward under him. Maybe, with luck, he'd reach a decent motel soon. It certainly wasn't likely there'd be one in Zachry: pop. 67.
Mr Ketchum shifted his heavy frame on the seat and stretched his legs.
The town seemed fast asleep as he drove along its Main Street. The only sound was that of the car's engine, the only sight that of his raised head beams splaying out ahead, lighting up another sign. Speed 15 Limit.
'Sure, sure,' he muttered disgustedly, pressing down on the gas pedal. Three o'clock in the morning and the town fathers expected him to creep through their lousy hamlet. Mr Ketchum watched the dark buildings rush past his window.
Goodbye Zachry, he thought. Farewell, pop. 67.
Then the other car appeared in the rear-view mirror. About half a block behind, a sedan with a turning red spotlight on its roof. He knew what kind of car it was. His foot curled off the accelerator and he felt his heartbeat quicken. Was it possible they hadn't noticed how fast he was going?
The question was answered as the dark car pulled up to the Ford and a man in a big hat leaned out of the front window. Pull over!' he barked.
Swallowing dryly, Mr Ketchum eased his car over to the kerb. He drew up the emergency brake, turned the ignition key and the car was still. The police car nosed in towards the kerb and stopped. The right front door opened.
The glare of Mr Ketchum's headlights outlined the dark figure approaching. He felt around quickly with his left foot and stamped down on the knob, dimming the lights. He swallowed again. Damned nuisance this. Three a.m. in the middle of nowhere and a hick policeman picks him up for speeding. Mr Ketchum gritted his teeth and waited.
The man in the dark uniform and wide-brimmed hat leaned over into the window. 'Licence.'
Mr Ketchum slid a shaking hand into his inside pocket and drew out his billfold. He felt around for his licence. He handed it over, noticed how expressionless the face of the policeman was. He sat there quietly while the policeman held a flashlight beam on the licence.
'From New Jersey.'
'Yes, that... that's right,' said Mr Ketchum.
The policeman kept staring at the licence. Mr Ketchum stirred restlessly on the seat and pressed his lips together. 'It hasn't expired,' he finally said.
He saw the dark head of the policeman lift. Then, he gasped as the narrow circle of flashlight blinded him. He twisted his head away.
The light was gone. Mr Ketchum blinked his watering eyes.
'Don't they read traffic signs in New Jersey?' the policeman asked.
'Why, I... You mean the sign that said population sixty-seven?'
'No, I don't mean that sign,' said the policeman.
'Oh.' Mr Ketchum cleared his throat. 'Well, that's the only sign I saw,' he said.
'You're a bad driver then.'
'Well, I'm-'
'The sign said the speed limit is fifteen miles an hour. You were doing fifty.'
'Oh. I... I'm afraid I didn't see it.'
'The speed limit is fifteen miles an hour whether you see it or not.'
'Well... at this hour of the morning?'
'Did you see a timetable on the sign?' the policeman asked.

-- Richard Matheson, The Children of Noah, 1957 (Full short story here)

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