Monday, May 22, 2017

Story 227: Drive Safe

I pop another sour candy in my mouth, but the effect has worn off.  I'm going to need to find a new way to stay awake.  The highway is abandoned except for us, with nothing visible except the lane lines and the faint flicker of whatever shrubs are growing right next to the asphalt as we hurtle past and briefly illuminate them with the edges of the headlights.  It always surprises me how much work it is to drive on a night like this.  It should be the easiest thing in the world, and instead I feel weary and my eyes are practically burning from looking ahead at nothing.

Lacey was keeping me entertained at first, but we've spent the last three days together - the majority of two of them on the road - and quite simply there's nothing left to talk about.  We played Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon for a while, but she's better at remembering all the little bit parts so she always wins.  I cranked the air conditioner all the way down, tried making up a game for myself involving the mile markers, and - of course - ate a lot of sour candy.  I'm all out of ideas.  I reach over and place my hand over Lacey's, and she sighs a little.  I think she's almost asleep with her eyes open; if I need to pull over she won't be able to take the wheel.  Maybe we could both just nap in the car for an hour.

Let's call that plan B.  I sit up a little straighter, and focus on the road ahead.  Something seems wrong, about the trees.  Something... ah.  Right.  There aren't any trees in the Arizona desert.  I'm imagining things again.  This happens every time, my brain gets tired of the void all around the road and fills it in.  Trees, usually, not fully seen but somehow implied in the darkness.  It's fine.  It doesn't mean anything, I can still drive a little further.  It's not safe to stop here anyway.  Now that I'm expecting it it's almost a game - spot the hallucination.  Of course on this incredibly boring stretch of highway the answer is that everything that's not road is in your head.  The rocky cliff on the right side of the car?  Fabrication.  The thing on the edge of the road?  Halfway real, just a missing reflector making a gap in the pattern.  The person running along the shoulder?  Could be real if people could run that fast - it's keeping up with us, just barely past the range of the headlights.

That's a persistent one.  Too tall and too consistently there to be the brush that grows out here.  It's just a bit of foot or elbow flickering into view, and a dim outline of a back and head.  Has to just be my imagination still, but it's unnerving.

A loud noise startles me awake as I drift too far out of my lane and onto the warning strip in the asphalt.  I straighten out and apply the brakes as I see that there's another car up ahead going much slower than us - Jesus, I probably would have just slammed into the back of that guy if I hadn't… fallen asleep?  That must be it.  I was full-on dreaming.  It seems so obvious now that some adrenaline has me wide awake.  Man, that was close.  Plan B time, we need to pull over right away and get some rest.  I'm not making it to the next town, but there's probably some dirt road we can pull onto.
"You okay?" Lacey asks, stretching.
"Yeah.  No.  I think I'm falling asleep at the wheel."
"Me too.  I kept thinking I saw some guy running eighty miles an hour ahead of us."

I don't think I've ever had goosebumps this powerful.
Lacey stretches as best she can in the cramped space. "Let's just pull off at the next little farming road."
She saw it too.  It's real.  It's out there, on this road.  "Um.  You know what?  I think I can make it into the next town."