“I’m trying to think of anything else,” she said.
My gaze drifted from the dotted yellow lines to the lines around her lips. “And how’s that going for you?”
“Better than you’d think. Or better than I’d think anyhow.”
“But not too well?”
“We’re not talking about it, are we? So I think it’s going fine.”
“No, we’re talking around it instead, and that’s just as bad.”
“You’re never happy, you know that?” She rolled her eyes and stared out the window as if the rotating calliope of cars on the highway was the most captivating thing she’d ever seen.
We didn’t say anything again for almost an hour. By then, the sun had set, and traffic was lighter, but we were no closer to our destination. You can’t be closer if you have nowhere to be.
Her fingertips pressed into the glass on the passenger’s side. “Where do the other cars go?”
“Home, I guess.”
“They’re not like us?”
I exhaled. “I doubt it.”
She waved at a minivan that ratcheted past the window, but the driver was oblivious. “Can they see us?”
“They don’t drive into us,” I said, “so I think so.”
“What if sometime we see your mother? Or my mother? Will they recognize us?”
“That would be weird for them.”
The highway ended, just like it did every night, and we were suddenly on a half-paved county route, one with an ever-changing itinerary of potholes and cracks.
The car bottomed out.
“I hate this road,” she said as though she’d never thought it before.
I hated it too, but I never said so. It seemed pointless to say it, seeing how no matter what exit we took or which turn we made, we always ended up in the same place.
From a mile away, we could see the spot. It was marked with nothing more than a dim light bulb dangling from an old wooden post.
We didn’t have to stop when we got there. We didn’t have to stop at all. The gas gauge on the brown sedan was fixed at a quarter tank, so we never needed a refill. Our stomachs were empty but never hungered, so we needed no sustenance either.
But that wooden post was the only place the car would let us brake, so again and again, we unfastened the seatbelts that had done us no good and climbed to the edge of the road.
Arms folded, she gaped into the ditch. “What do you expect to learn?”
“Anything,” I said as we stood side by side in the mud that had devoured us whole. “There’s got to be something here.”
“Sure is.” She kicked over a memorial wreath. “Death. And that’s exactly what I didn’t want to think about.”
“Then get back in the car.”
“Don’t tell me what to do,” she said. “You always told me what to do. That’s why I was with you that night. I never wanted to go to that damn party.”
I scoffed. “Could have fooled me.”
She inspected my face, and the emptiness of the road settled between us. “What does that mean?”
“You didn’t complain once. Too busy drinking a pitcher of margaritas and flirting with every guy there.”
“I was just trying to keep up with you,” she said, “and all those giggling girls that flocked to your side.”
I didn’t remember any giggling girls, but that didn’t mean she was wrong. My memories were fading a little each day like a sandcastle being swallowed by the sea.
Yet she was impervious to the decay, her eyes as bright and anxious as they were before she clambered into the passenger’s side that April evening a thousand car rides ago.
Or just one car ride ago, depending on how you looked at it.
“I want to drive,” she said.
I gripped the keys between my fingers. “But you never drive.”
“What are you worried about?” She glared at me. “That someone might tell us it’s against the rules?”
Surrendering the teethed silver, I climbed into her seat, and she climbed into mine.
“Where do you want to go?” she asked as if we had a choice.
“Let’s go to the moon,” I said. It was at least a place I hadn’t seen.
“Waning moon or waxing moon?”
“Does it matter?”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “It matters quite a bit.”
“One waxing moon, coming right up.”
The wheels of the sedan whirled in the mud, and gravel skipped into the air like drab fireworks.
With the wooden post disappearing in the rearview mirror, she smiled. As the car returned to the main highway, she kept smiling until all the lines on her face washed away.
I smiled too, though I didn’t mean to, and somewhere in my crumbling mind, I hoped for the first time we might never see that lonely light again.
Gwendolyn Kiste is a horror and fantasy writer based in Pennsylvania. Her short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Strangely Funny II, History and Horror, Oh My! and Whispers from the Past: Fright and Fear.
You can find her at www.gwendolynkiste.com and on Twitter (@GwendolynKiste).