by Peter Damien

 

 

 

 

 

From Issue 19 (Mar 2012)

He had zip-tied Charlotte’s ankle to the metal skeleton beneath the car seat, and she had spent all of the first day of their unending drive moving her foot back and forth and up and down, rubbing against the little plastic. It was no thicker than a straw but may as well have been made of solid steel for all the good her movements did. Yet she kept wiggling and moving her foot. She rubbed the flesh raw, and then rubbed it off and blood ran down her pale ankle and left her bare foot and the zip-tie slick and red, but even that did no good. In the movies, the blood provided lubricant and the captive slipped themselves out of their bonds easily, but that was not the case here. Here, she was only getting out if she severed the bones in her foot from the bones in her leg. If she could have reached, she would have done just that, if necessary with her teeth.

If there was pain from the small equator of raw flesh and blood, she did not feel it. She went mad, that first day, a madness the pain could not penetrate. Her mind filled with rage and despair, the animalistic panic at being trapped like this, being snatched away. What was left of her mind was filled with those last few moments: the sound of scuffling, the sound of Eric shouting at her to run, goddammit, get the hell outta here, get the – and then the sound of his voice being cut off by a thunderclap explosion which left her ears ringing. A gunshot. The only sound after that had been the sick thud of dead meat hitting the asphalt. Then hands that were not Eric’s had grabbed her and shoved her into the car. The man who took her had said his name was Simon, and then he said nothing else.

He drove while, beside him, she sank beneath the black waves of grief and insanity.

On the second day, her ankle hurt badly and she felt it with every pulse of blood that her heart pushed through her body, which it did at jackhammer pace since the panic had not left, even if the madness had abated. The meaty thud and the gunshot still looped through her mind, and she began to sob brokenly.

In the seat next to her, Simon eventually told her to stop. He said it with disinterest, as if he had been expecting this and found it a chore. When she did not stop, when more hours had passed, he reached over and grabbed a handful of her long, black hair, yanking her head back. She didn’t see his hand coming, of course. The pain was staggering and she gasped, shocked into silence.

“Seriously, shut up,” he said. He didn’t sound angry. He sounded annoyed. It was the tone of voice someone might use to scold a small dog who wouldn’t stop barking. Then his hand was gone.

That second night, Simon stopped the car and got out, locking it behind him. She heard his footsteps crunch away, and then nothing but silence. For a long time, Charlotte just sat there, still trying not to cry. Then she began fumbling around the inside of the car, looking for any way to escape, anything she could use to kill him…or herself. But there was nothing. The door had no handle, the lock had been filed away into the depth of the door. The floor was bare, and so was every compartment she jammed her hand into. Each time she tried to move, she was reminded that her ankle was trapped and a piercing pain shot up her leg. She was so well anchored, she couldn’t even put a finger on his door. Claustrophobia threatened to roll over her and smother her. Madness lurked nearby, waiting to come back.

She didn’t know where she was, either, and that was just as maddening. Where had they stopped? Where had he gone? Had he simply stopped the car on the side of the road, somewhere in the Nevada desert and walked away? Leaving her to starvation and insanity? To cook in the heat like a side of meat in an oven? Where had he gone?

She wondered if she would be going less mad, if she would be able to escape, if she had her eyesight. If only she could see. It had been decades since her eyesight had gone, and plenty of years since she had accepted the blindness. It had been so long since she had missed it as badly as she did now. But the world was as black and featureless now, in this nightmare, as it had been during the good years, the happy years, with Eric.

She cried a little. It was the only sound in the car. She hid her mouth with her hand and wiped away tears the moment they formed. She didn’t know who she was hiding her crying from, but hid it anyway.

A sound of crunching gravel, then the door opened and Simon dropped into the driver’s seat. He reeked of hamburger and fries, cigarette smoke, cheap beer. A small bag fell into her lap and she grasped at it. It was smooth and it crinkled.

“Chips,” he said. “Eat up. Long drive ahead of us, so you gotta keep some strength up.”

She didn’t eat them. She let them slip to the floor a little while later. Simon made no comment. He just drove on, through the night.

On the third day, she went away. Simple as that.

It was something she had learned from Eric; something he had taught her how to do. Eric had loved to teach. Except that didn’t quite convey his wild enthusiasm. He’d delighted in things and shared them and enjoyed the reactions of others. Whether it was booze, TV shows, stupid pictures on the internet, fine cuisine or baffling flavors of potato chips, he’d loved to try things and bring others along for the adventure. Sporadic. That’s what his mom had called him, but Charlotte had loved it. There were never dull moments, only electric ones and the restful spaces between them.

He had taught her to go away, and she did.

It was a meditation technique, one of his few interests that had lasted longer than a few weeks (other long-term interests had been tea, good books, running…and her). She focused, she really focused on putting away the world around her: the endless, burning pain in her ankle, the hot and dusty car rattling around her. She visualized herself walking down little stone steps, and she felt the roughness of each stone under bare feet. She stepped into a small pool of cold water, and she felt it against her ankles, forced herself to feel it. And then, breathing and calm and settled, she pictured where she wanted to be.

And then she opened her eyes.

The little Ford Focus was blue and it hummed along the interstate. The world outside was mountainous and full of thick snow, she saw. She was sitting in the passenger seat. She looked over, and there was Eric, driving the car and drumming his thumbs on the center of the steering wheel. He watched the road in the absent way one does on a long drive. Then he glanced over at her.

“Hey, you’re awake,” he said with a wide, handsome grin. He gestured out the windows. “Can you believe this snow? I’m amazed the roads are open.”

The snow was heavy and enveloping. The road they were on wound through sloping hills and sharp cuts through mountains. Trees and walls of rock surrounded them, all covered in snow. The trees bent under the weight of it, whether they had evergreen needles or were simply black skeletons waiting for the spring. Snow buried the fields and level areas, it encroached on the road wherever it had found finger holds, where the cars had not pushed it back. Snow had turned the world white and the sky gray, it had transformed the world into a black and white TV show with a strange, bright-blue car rolling through the middle of it.

She stretched, leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. His cheek was rough with a day’s worth of stubble and it pricked her lips.

“How much longer?” Charlotte said, bending down to rub her hands along the length of her legs. She created friction against her denims, stirring life back into tired and inert limbs.

“I’m not gonna tell you,” Eric said, with the coy glee of a child with a secret. “But it won’t be very much longer now, so chill out, huh? Eat some junk food.”

There was a ton of junk food – little bags of a million kinds of chips, all in the footwell of her seat, around her feet. She shifted and they crinkled and crunched. “That stuff’ll kill you. I don’t want any part of that. Come on, why won’t you just tell me where we’re going?” She switched to a cute, petulant tone of voice and pouted at him. “Why’s a big, strong, handsome man like you got to keep secrets from little, delicate me?”

He snickered at her, and she socked him in the arm.

Eric looked at her, his face suddenly contorted into a gargoyle expression of fury. His hand blurred across the space between them and slapped her, hard, so unbelievably hard, across the cheek, that her head snapped away and her forehead smacked into the window beside her. The impact made her shut her eyes, and she kept them shut. The pain in her cheek was a crimson blossom, beginning as a single brilliant white point of pain that soaked outward until her whole face ached. She cradled it, tears cresting in her eyes.

Don’t try that again, you dumb bitch,” Simon snapped at her. “I got plenty of experience with bitches who start fightin’ back, an’ lemme tell you, all it’ll get you is stuffed in the trunk for the rest of the ride home. You get me?”

She nodded, frantically, so that he wouldn’t hit her again. Her cheek was on fire and it was spreading. Simon said nothing else, just sighed deeply and went back to driving. The car rattled and bumped down the desert roads. She leaned against the doorframe. If there were anything but blackness, she would have peered out the window.

The car was hot and dusty, but Charlotte shivered, just a little, despite the heat. She held onto that feeling, like she held onto the images of a snow-covered landscape, a little blue car, and Eric grinning. No gargoyle-leer, no hitting. Grinning. Loving. A day’s worth of stubble rasping against her lips. The staccato drum beat on the wheel. The heartbeat of tires thudding down the road. All the dead trees in their wintry shrouds…

Blackness around her and a head full of images? It was easy to go back. She just had to be still, that was all, to visualize a pool of water and then calm it until it was a mirror in which she could see herself if she looked down. Once all was still, well, all she had to do was open her eyes.

Eric drove on. The landscape had changed only in that they were driving the long downward slope of a mountain, nothing but white stretched out for miles and miles ahead of them, with only the thin vein of the black road to break up the snow tracts.

Coming down a mountain like this wasn’t so hard for the little car, which was relatively light, but there were all sorts of big yellow signs which warned of exactly how difficult it was for big trucks to get down these steep sections, and how small cars should keep a close eye out for trucks that had no brakes. At regular intervals on the long slope, single lanes branched off from the road and ran for a few hundred feet, full of gravel, with big metal barriers at the end. If the trucks went out of control, they could veer into those and, physics willing, grind to a halt before shooting off the road entirely and into the trees or the side of the mountain.

“I know where we are,” Charlotte said, looking around. “This is Montana. Isn’t it? Am I right?”

“You are not right, you are wrong, is what they call what you are,” Eric said. He glanced her way. “Why can’t you just sit back and let it happen? You gotta keep guessing ’til you ruin it? Just be patient and wait for it.”

“I hate doing that.”

“Tell me about it,” Eric said. “It’s why Christmas time is such a pain in the ass.”

She let the matter go. It was too peaceful a world to fill up with arguing. She gazed out the windows, laced her fingers in her lap, and enjoyed watching everything go by, as if she were sitting still and the whole world were on a conveyer belt, trundling past her. Occasionally, they passed trees that had shattered under the weight of the snow and toppled. More snow had covered these fallen bodies, and they were as beautiful in their way as the trees that were still standing.

Once in a while, they passed other cars, but she never got a good look at them. They were just things she was aware of, out of the corner of her eye.

Eric glanced at her when they came down the mountain and the road leveled out.

“Hey,” he said. “So how’re you doing anyway? Been on the road awhile. You okay?”

“I’m all right,” she said. “Tired mostly. And sore.”

She was sore, she realized…but she shied away from the thought. She added, “Just pretty tired, that’s the main thing. It’s been a long few days on the road.”

“Tell me about it,” Eric said. “And I’m the one driving. Why not go to sleep for a while? We’ve got a ways to go still.”

As he said it, Charlotte realized that sounded like the nicest thing in the world. She let her head rest against the side window, the chill of the outside world seeping through it. Her eyes were already heavy, and she was asleep in no time.

They slept in the car that night. And in the night, a figure maneuvered inside the awkward space of the car and moved against her, waking her only halfway from a deep sleep. It was a male form, Eric, surely Eric.

He insinuated himself between her legs. She didn’t bother opening her eyes, she was too sleepy. Typical Eric. Drive all day, and still have enough energy at night for something like this. Usually, he gave sex all the enthusiasm he gave the rest of life, but this time it was slow, and short, and then done, because he had driven all day and was tired.

Then he went back to the driver’s seat, and Charlotte settled back down, still in the blurred-world fog of someone who had only come halfway from the black waters of a deep sleep. She barely remembered to mumble, before she slipped off again, “I love you, Eric.”

There was no reply from beside her.

Probably, he was already asleep.

Poor Eric.

Eric pulled off the freeway and into the parking lot of a small truck stop, and the car tires crunched across the ice as he came to a stop a ways off from the little building. He pulled up the emergency brake, which made a loud popping sound and that startled Charlotte, who sat up right as Simon opened the door, his feet crunching gravel.

“I’m gonna go piss,” Simon said. “You…want anything?”

It was the first thing he’d said all day, since they’d started driving again. He sounded different. Almost hesitant.

“No,” Charlotte said. She was lying. Her stomach stabbed and bit and gaped, her hands shook if she held them out in front of her. She was so hungry. When had she last eaten? What had she had?

“I’ll bring some food,” Simon said. He was silent, but there were no footsteps and the car door did not slam. Just silent for a long time. Then he added, “Are you sick or something? Besides the blind shit, I mean are you ill?”

“No,” she said. “I don’t get sick much.”

“Oh.” Another long silence. Then Simon said, “You’re just so goddamned cold. I thought maybe you was sick. Anyway. I’ll be back.” He slammed the door and crunched away.

Charlotte sat and baked.

Charlotte sat.

Charlotte sat and steamed up the window, which was so cold from the wintry air outside. She doodled a happy face in it. Then a cat face. Then a peace sign, and then she was out of steam.

“Am I boring you?” Eric asked.

“Nope,” she said. “I can doodle and listen at the same time, you know.”

“What was I saying, then?”

“That there’s a city in Norway where they completely eliminated all the traffic lights and stop signs and rules-of-the-road stuff, as an experiment, and very nearly all accidents stopped.”

“Well…yeah.”

“Jealous that I can doodle and listen?”

“College education at work,” Eric said. “Doodle and listen. If I had gone to a big mucky-muck university, I could doodle and listen too.”

Charlotte laughed.

Eric climbed out of the driver’s seat. He left the door hanging wide open as he walked in a small, restless circle next to the car. He high-stepped and opened his arms wide, he twisted at the waist and he stretched, groaning with effort as he did so. Then he bent and peered back into the car. “You gonna get out and stretch your legs at all?”

“No, I’m fine,” she smiled at him. “And I don’t feel like getting covered in snow.”

“Oh, well…”

She knew what he was going to do before he did it and she shouted Don’t you dare!” But it was too late. He bent down, gathered up a big handful of snow and flung it into the car at her. It was too powdery to form a snowball, so it was simply a long sheet of snow that wafted through the car. Some of it hit her and did what snow does instinctively, which is to go straight down the shirt.

“Aaah!” she shouted. “You jerk!” She grabbed the front of her shirt and pulled it away from her body. “Get back in the car, so I can punch you!”

“Maybe I’ll just walk from here,” Eric teased.

“I’m never going anywhere with you again! It’s like traveling with an infant!”

Eric laughed. He slid back into the car and pulled the door shut with a bang.

“Here, I got you some chips and a beef stick,” Simon said. “Tastes all right, once you get used to –”

Simon broke off, silence and darkness ruling in the car for a moment. Then he said, quietly, “That’s some damn chill you’re radiating, the whole inside of the car is cold. It’s like I got me a human air conditioner…”

He didn’t laugh after he said it, though. He started the car and pulled it out onto the freeway in silence. The gravel crunched. The dry desert heat quickly took care of the chill. The dust worked its way into the car, inevitably, and Charlotte tasted it in the back of her throat.

They drove in silence for a long time. The radio grew dull and Simon turned it off. Silence filled the car for a bit, and then Simon began to talk. He spoke slowly at first, sounding preoccupied, like he had something on his mind that he wanted to share.

“The first girl I killed, I did her right next door to my house. Now that was stupid. You don’t gotta tell me that. So stupid. But I got away with it. Turns out she had some shit of a boyfriend who used to beat her and they thought of him before me. But you know? It was good. Killing her. It was fuckin’ amazing.”

Charlotte had been leaning against the window, but she sat up straighter as he began to talk. There was no need to look over at him, so she looked straight ahead at blackness.

“Pretty soon, I realized I wanted to do it again. But you know what?” He paused a second, not long enough for her to answer. “I’m not an idiot. I’m not actually stupid. You probably think I am. All fuckin’ women, they take one goddamn look at me and think they got me all figured, you know? Well they don’t. You shouldn’t do that to men. You don’t get it. So I watch a lotta TV, and I see all those shows about serial killers. And they always have their territory and their patterns and sooner or later, the cops get ’em. So you know what I did? I got smart.”

He snapped his fingers, just an inch away from her left ear and she flinched as sharply as if she had been struck. “You payin’ attention? Or you staring into space again?”

“I’m paying attention,” she mumbled, hating how weak her voice sounded.

“Better be.” He said nothing for a time, then continued. “So I waited, real patient, and then I took my vacation time from work and headed out west. All the way to California. Sometimes I hit Oregon or Nevada or Washington or somethin’, but usually California. I just really like their girls. And I grab the bitch, and then drive back home, do what I want. Means I’ve got no territory they’re gonna spot, no patterns. It’s great.”

“Why are you telling me?”

“I dunno,” Simon said. “Cause I’m proud of it? Cause you’re gonna die, so what’s it matter?”

“How many times before?”

“You’re my tenth,” he said, and now there was no disguising the pride in his voice. “You’re my happy anniversary. Cool huh? Hey, listen, you eat that shit I bought you, or I’ll tape a funnel in your mouth and pour food into you. You get me?”

“I get you,” Charlotte said, but she didn’t eat. She leaned her head back against the glass, which was fogged as thoroughly as if the world outside were coated in mist.

It was interesting that she didn’t feel scared, or upset. Not really. Maybe it was because she had slept so little and had been through too many days of terror and imprisonment, maybe she was just worn out inside. But she wasn’t scared. She was as calm as a pool of water, and as clear.

“Hey,” Eric said, “you dozing off?”

She looked at him. His close-cropped blonde hair could almost blend into the snowy fields passing by the car. He had several days worth of stubble on his face, but his hair was so pale, it was almost impossible to tell.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m just waking up. How are you doing?”

“Me? I’m fine. It’s a long drive, though.”

“Well, we could just stop,” Charlotte said. “Or you could tell me where we’re going, and I could drive. How’s that for a thought?”

“It’s a good thought. Anyway, it’s not that much further. So relax. Just enjoy the ride.”

“Yeah, well, easy for you to say, you know where we’re going.”

“Only immediately. Cosmically, do any of us? I mean really?”

“Don’t even start up with that,” Charlotte said. He laughed and focused on the road.

She looked at him, really studied him, and then said, “When did you get a gold earring?”

Simon whirled to look at her, wide-eyed and alarmed. She saw him, then, for the first time…but only for a split-second. Then the blackness swallowed her vision. It was alarming and painful, a stake driven through each eyeball. Even in the blackness, she could make him out, like an after-image: soft and too tall for the car, thick glasses and a thin mustache, bad teeth, a finger missing on his left hand. A gold earring.

“What the fuck?” Simon snarled at her. And when she didn’t answer – she was trying to, though, she was scrambling for something to say as terror bubbled up inside her, marring the clear surface of the pond – “How the fuck did you do that?”

Abruptly, he wrenched the car off the road and it skidded through the dust. At the speed they’d been going, Charlotte was amazed the car wasn’t simply wrecked. She tensed up, waiting for the blows to land. What she didn’t expect was to feel both his hands close on her head, one on each side of her face. He forced her around to look at him, so hard her neck twinged. For a moment, Charlotte thought he was going to smash her head in, to strangle her, but he just held her that way.

“You look blind, you look goddamn blind,” Simon shouted. His breath was hot and reeked of old meat and stale chips. “Your eyes are all pale and shit like in the movies. So how the hell did you do that?”

“I don’t know, I wasn’t, I just –” she stammered and stopped, choking on the congealed terror in her throat.

He just held her that way, silent but for his fast breathing. His hot breath hit her face in gusts. Her mind randomly reminded her of how Eric had held her just this way, hand cupping each side of her face. Rough palms against her soft skin. She couldn’t see him, but it didn’t frustrate her. She didn’t know what expression was on his face, couldn’t see what he was thinking. What excited her, though, was that sooner or later he would lean in and kiss her, and she didn’t know when until his lips were against hers. Every time, a surprise. Magnificent.

They stayed that way for too long. It would be a surprise, she thought, if Simon’s hands suddenly shifted and crushed her throat.

His hands released her face. She flinched, but they didn’t touch her again. He exhaled.

“Fuck,” he said. His voice shook a little. “You’re just some bitch, you are not worth this grief…”

The terror was still a lump she couldn’t spit out or swallow. She talked around it, she had to. “You could let me go. You could just let me go right here. I haven’t seen you, please, I haven’t seen you, not really, I can’t describe you to anyone. I’m no threat. I don’t even know where I am.”

“Utah,” Simon said, distractedly, as if he weren’t really paying attention. “Edge of Utah. Middle of nowhere.”

“You’ll be long gone by the time I make it to anyone,” Charlotte said. She tried to sound warm, reassuring, the way she might speak to a small child if he were upset. It occurred to her a split-second too late that this was a bad idea. She pushed on. “I might not even make it to anyone, you know? I might just –”

“Stop talking,” Simon said. He spoke very quietly. “Just shut the hell up and let me think for a minute.”

The car door opened and the car shifted around them as Simon got out. He banged the door shut. It had brought a waft of heat and dust in, but no other smells she could pick out: no gasoline, or burnt rubber, or exhaust. No food, or smoke. They really had stopped in the middle of nowhere.

Charlotte was dizzy. It was a good thing she was sitting down because her head spun and she felt a little detached from the world. Adrenaline and terror, she thought at first. Then realized it was more likely because she hadn’t eaten in, what, three days? Four days? She had no idea how long she’d been strapped by her ankle to this seat. It felt like years.

The heat was too much, so she put it away and replaced it with the gentle chill of a warmed-up car cruising across a wintry landscape. The plastic tie around her ankle hurt, so she put it away and stretched her legs. The sitting still was unbearable, so she put it away and put the car in motion. The loneliness hurt, an ache like an old wound that would not heal. So she put that away.

“We’re here,” Eric said. He smiled when she looked at him. “Close your eyes, love.”

She closed her eyes obediently. Eric drove a few minutes more, then stopped the car. He opened the door, a chill breeze wafting in. There were no smells with it, nothing but the sharp, clean air of winter in the middle of nowhere. She heard his footsteps around the car, and then he opened her door and helped her out. Her left ankle hurt a little, like she had sprained it or something…but Eric supported her weight. With her eyes closed and the roughness of the snow underfoot, she needed his arms around her waist.

They walked a little ways. “I hope this was worth the wait,” she teased, leaning against him. He was a hutch of warmth and pleasure in the cold landscape.

“I think it is,” he said. “I’m sorry you hate to wait so long.”

“It wasn’t so bad,” she said, but that wasn’t true and they both knew it. She leaned on him a little harder and realized that tears were welling up in her eyes. The lump of terror that had been in her throat, it was just a lump now, and it was making it very hard to breath.

They stopped walking and she pushed her face against his shoulder, and she sobbed. Nothing graceful or controlled about it. She just sobbed and cried. It was so hard to breathe now, so incredibly hard to breathe, that lump in her throat constricted her airways until it felt like nothing was coming in. Eric’s hands were around her, caressing her back and brushing her long hair out of the way.

“It’s okay now,” he whispered, kissing her ear as he spoke. “You’re here. It’s okay now. Just hold onto me.”

“I miss you,” she managed. “I love you… and I miss you so bad.”

“I know.” He kissed her again. She felt dizzy, so dizzy, and inhaling wasn’t filling her lungs. “I’m right here.” Suddenly, he sounded a little more urgent. “Open your eyes, Charlotte. Look around.”

She did. She turned away.

The world had transformed around them. Behind them, a snowy world full of whiteness and black trees, a small blue car sitting on the side of a black strip of road. But her feet and boots, they were on velvet grass. A blue sky domed over the world. Before her, around her, as far as the eye could see: sunflowers.

Endless sunflower fields. They stretched on and on, all their black eyes turned toward the sun, rows of them running down into valleys and up hills, cresting the hilltops as they reached for the sky. The fields ran all the way to the horizon, where maybe they finally brushed the light blue dome that they longed for. Brilliant yellow petals wreathed around black, unblinking centers atop tall green bodies with strong, broad leaves. There were narrow paths between the rows.

Maybe it was because she’d pushed herself against Eric’s chest that it had been so hard to breathe, because now it was the easiest thing in the world. Warm, clean air filled her and calmed her. What a silly girl she was sometimes, Charlotte thought: to make herself stop breathing against Eric’s jacket.

Eric’s hand closed around hers. She turned to him and he kissed her, full and hard on the lips. She gave herself utterly to the kiss.

And then, hand in hand, they went off down the miniscule paths that wound through the sunflower fields like veins. The sun was high, and it felt like it might never set. They could explore forever, together. That was how it felt.

Simon drove on, alone.

He had traveled miles before he calmed down and felt the anger and terror settle. The road rolled on beneath his red Cadillac. Dusty plains stretched out beside him, shades of brown and black. They led to towering, jagged mountains which rose out of the salt plains.

This had been the worst vacation ever, and he was pissed as hell about it. It wasn’t his fault, not even a little. He’d done nothing different this time. So what the hell had happened to get him saddled with such bad luck?

But the more the miles rolled past, the more the dry desert heat baked away the gloom. Eventually, he was thinking, ‘Well hell, this might not be so bad after all’. He’d never picked up a girl in Utah before. He liked the beachfront girls of the Pacific coast, but he’d seen some of them Mormon bitches in Salt Lake City. He could go for one of ’em. She’d be normal, with the usual screaming and crying and trying to escape. Nothing terrifying. And it was pretty far off whatever pattern he might have. It’d work. The trip was salvageable. Totally salvageable.

The sun crept down the sky, flaming into a blazing red as it sank below the horizon. Simon turned on the radio, where Credence Clearwater Revival sang about a bad moon, John Fogarty hoping you’d got your things together. Simon turned on his headlights.

Eventually, the long crawl of the straight freeway got to him. It had been a horrible day, and he was exhausted. He pulled off the freeway, a ways from the road, killed the engine and the lights, tilted his seat back and closed his eyes. There was no one next to him to worry about. He could sleep as deep as he liked. Like anyone on vacation might do.

He was almost asleep, he was just on the verge, when a gust of frigid air hit him and snapped him awake, quick as if he’d been slapped.

He sat up, squinting. It was brighter than nighttime now, and he gaped: He was in the passenger seat of the Cadillac. Beyond the car, a snowy landscape stretched endlessly, his view of the horizon broken only by the thick forests of snow-covered pine trees. The tarmac unrolled ahead of the car as it hurtled down the road.

The air vents pulled air in from outside, blasting unbelievable cold at him. He tried to reach forward and push them away, but his hands wouldn’t move. He looked down.

His hands were zip-tied to his thighs. And when he tried to shift his legs, he discovered they were zip-tied too. He couldn’t see what they were tied to, but he knew. He knew precisely where to attach those on the underside of a car seat, after all.

“…the fuck?”

“You shouldn’t have done that,” said a voice beside him. He looked over at the driver.

Behind the wheel sat a thin young man with hair of such a pale blonde, it was nearly white. He had three days’ worth of stubble on his face and he drove with both his thumbs resting on the center of the steering wheel. When he looked over, he smiled at Simon.

“You’re dead,” Simon said stupidly.

“Yes,” Eric said. “You really shouldn’t have done that.”

“Done what?”

“Touched her. Hurt her. Gone near her,” Eric said. Simon’s teeth chattered so hard, he could barely hear Eric over the sound of them rattling in his skull.

The world around the car was gloomy and menacing. It scared Simon to look out the window. It seemed alive, the snowy world: like there were huge wolves behind each tree, unspeakable creatures lurking beneath the piles of snow, waiting to tear him apart, waiting to scream insanely at him. He shivered so hard.

Claustrophobia settled in and he tried to yank his hands free. All he managed to do was send burning pain up from his wrists and shred his own skin. It didn’t help. His breath came in short bursts, the cold air hurting his lungs.

“Settle down, we’re almost there,” Eric said.

“This is a dream,” Simon said. “This is a stupid dream. Like that shit she was always talking about. Her daydreaming.”

“Like that,” Eric agreed. “Precisely like that. But she was better than you, and better than me. I think that means she had a better quality dream, don’t you agree? I envied that about her. I loved that so much.”

Eric pulled off the road and drove through the snow. The car slowed and sank until Simon thought it would simply get stuck, but it pushed on. The trees loomed very close, reaching down to brush it with pine-needle skeleton fingers and thick shrouds of snow. The sky was invisible now, obscured by the canopy of the trees. Simon shivered so hard, it hurt his wrists. He couldn’t stop.

“We’re here.” Eric said, stopping the car.

There was nothing around but endless trees and the feeling of something lurking. Terror flared up in Simon’s stomach, so forcefully that it caused tears to prickle his eyes.

Eric opened his door. He pushed it all the way open and then began to walk away.

“Wait!” Simon screamed, gibbering in terror. “Don’t leave me here! This is a dream this has got to be a dream!

Ten feet away from the car, Eric looked back. “You know,” he said, “I don’t feel that matters one way or the other.”

He kept walking. Simon shrieked after him as madness swallowed his brain, fired him so that he wasn’t aware of the loss of feeling in his hands, and his legs. He was unaware of the woods around him or the car or anything but his own terror and claustrophobia and the raw-throated violence of his screams…

Copyright © 2012 by Peter Damien

Peter Damien

Peter Damien patrols the Midwest from his home base in northern Minnesota. He is the only Midwestern superhero currently in existence, and evil quakes at the mention of his name, Captain Thunderpants. Not being tremendously busy in this area, he also writes copiously, lives on Twitter, defends himself against the onslaught of two small boys who are in his care (parenting, not weird Robin-esque “ward” stuff) and nursing a tea addiction. He harbors the suspicion that in a slasher movie, he’d be the first to go. He can be found online at www.peterdamien.com . OR, commit a crime in the Midwest and HE will find YOU.

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