It was dark and the car wouldn’t go any more, so we stopped and waited out the night. I can’t really say we pulled over, since we weren’t on any sort of paved road. It had started out that way. Neat and flat and manicured asphalt over which the car floated. In a way, that road was more dangerous than where we ended up. The landscapes blurred into one nondescript mass of color. The signs, too.
We did notice when the road changed. The sharp drop onto grooved concrete segments rattled the bones of the car. The shocks squeaked. We gasped, then laughed at each other like we used to do when we were kids.
I’m not sure of the exact moment when it hit us. This was not a simple journey. The roadmap we had was useless. I do know certainty concentrated into a palpable concrete thing when the branches of dead trees scraped the side of the car, and the oil pan screamed against the ground.
It sunset then. The trees were ghosts and the thick scent of burning filled the car.
“What do you want to do?” she asked.
“Call Mom and Dad.”
She leaned her head against the passenger’s side window, winced as a rut jostled her. “You should take this more seriously.”
I knew that.
“We should turn around.”
I glanced in the rear view mirror. My hands tightened on the steering wheel, and my mind fought my body to remain, to stay, to be calm. We couldn’t go back. Ahead of us was darkness, night falling, and narrow bands of high frequencies hanging onto the edge. Nothing lurked behind us. When I say nothing, I mean it was a dense grey fog. Every so often the fog moved. It swirled and condensed into shapes. I recognized the faces of my past, her past, pulsating behind us. It was nothing to which we could go back.
She must have known. She didn’t say anything else after that.
The road had narrowed again. It was more like a trail now. Instead of the horrible screeching against the sides of the car, the trees now whispered. White bodies flashed out of the darkness. And then we had to stop.
We sat in silence, pretended to sleep. Instead of a terrible eeriness, instead of howling, owls hooted outside. The air was alive out there. We both opened our doors at the same time. Stepped outside at the same time. We rolled our bodies onto the hood of the car, drank in the residual heat of the engine, and stared into the sky. Through the silhouette leaves, stars peeked at us, traced the same shapes they’ve held for millennia.
When we woke up in the morning, the fog behind us was gone. The sun had seared it away. Now, all around us, birch trees stood. Tall. Proud. Light danced through them, and their eyes watched us as we abandoned the car and the road completely. We observed each other as wove through the trees, and let our heart pick out the path for our feet to follow.
A note about this post: The painting is by Heather T. And this is part of an art collaboration we are doing, blending image with word, going where our creative whims take us.