The Foggy Toll Booth

“Feck off.”  Cries the barkeeper as Smith stumbles out the bar, slurring incomprehensible curses back at the other patrons who were almost prepared to beat him themselves.

As he finds his car pulled up crooked at the side of the curb, he struggles to find the keyhole to unlock the door.  The keys somehow find their way to the moist asphalt below a couple times despite Smith’s earnest efforts.  Finally climbing in, the seat belt resists the best it could, and he decides to leave it be.  What, his house is only a few kilometers away at best.

Pulling out from under the protective glow of the street lamp, he jams in the accelerator, the streets his own personal raceway at this time of night.  Out from the bay, the fog can be seen rolling in against the backdrop of the bright, full moon hanging above the water.

By the time Smith had reached the coastal road to lead him the final stretch home, the fog had drifted onto the road, swallowing up the car and any light coming from the town on one side, or the moon from the other.  Turning on his brights in hopes to pierce the thick grey veil, something shines back at him, something probably on the bridge ahead.

Releasing the gas just a bit, he squints his eyes down, trying to find the source of the reflection.  The dark painted structure-work of the bridge comes into view, along with something new he had never seen.  A lone guardhouse sits by the road, holding up a bar across the roadway, and on it, a round orange reflector.

Inside the tiny structure sits a man atop a stool, seemingly waiting patiently under the tiny light danging from the ceiling. Smith pulls carefully up to the bar and rolls down his window.  The man appears just outside as he looks up from the window crank.

“Who’re you?”  Smith grumbles at the man.

“How are you tonight, sir?”  The man asks chipperly.  “Toll is just a humble 75 pence.”

Smith pats himself down, searching his empty pockets for the wallet that seemed to have gone missing.  “I don’t got it.”  He peers out at the man once again.  “Since when ya’ been here, feller?”

“Some time.  Now, unless I can collect you toll, I unfortunately can’t let you pass.”

“Wadd’a ya want me to do?”  Smith points out his window at the bridge.  “I live out here.  You sayin’ I godda go the long  way around?”

“Unfortunately, yes, sir.”

Smith lets out a ‘hmph’ and rolls the window back up.  Quickly turning the car around, he rolls off back in the direction of town.  As he takes the exit off the bay road, the heaviness in his eyes threatens to stop his excursion, and he pulls off to the side of the road to shut his eyes.

Sunlight drifts in the windows of the car as a knock at the window startles Smith awake.  A man in a blue uniform stands outside.  Staring into the bight morning sun, Smith rolls the window down.  “Can I help you?”  He mutters, his mouth dry.

“Just making sure you’re okay, sir.”  The officer looks down upon him.

“Course I am.  Just about to head back home, I am.”  Smith points back in the direction of the bridge.

“Oh, I wouldn’t go that way if I were you.”  The officer shakes his head.  “Bad accident on the bridge last night, in the fog.  Luckily both the drivers were wearing their seat belts, so they weren’t too banged up.  You better buckle up yourself, my friend.”  The man points down at Smith’s lap.

“What about that toll booth down there?  Did he see anything?”  Smith twists his back to look behind him.

“Toll booth?  Ain’t never been one there on that bridge.  You sure you’re okay?”

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