This is a piece of flash fiction written for my Intermediate Fiction class. Comments and constructive criticism are welcome.
“A two-way ticket from Des Moines to Los Angeles is $400 without short notice!” she cried as she rifled through her closet. “It’s Tuesday! I need to be in LA by Thursday. That ticket is $800 at least.” She held up one of her nice sweaters, then discarded it and kept digging. “Driving makes more sense, here. It’s only a twenty-four hour drive. I can totally make that!”
“That’s such a long trek, though,” her mother fretted.
“I can make it,” she promised, throwing the chosen clothes into her duffel bag. She didn’t need much. Even so, she mentally checked things off as she packed them. Clothes? Check. Folder with resume and references? Check. Cooler? Check. Beef jerky? Check. Twizzlers? Check.
“Make sure to pull over if you get tired,” her fiance cautioned as she double-checked her bags and snacks.
“I can make it,” she assured him. The luggage was tossed into her passenger seat.
“Make sure you check your tires every time you stop,” her father reminded her.
“I can make it,” she told him. She kissed everyone’s cheeks and got into her car. “Wish me luck!”
“Good luck!” her parents and fiance obediently chorused. They waved from the front steps as she started her little blue car and sped off towards the highway.
The first couple hours of her trip were uneventful. The traffic was minimal, consisting of semi-trucks and the odd car or truck here and there. At one point she got stuck behind a station wagon. It had a ‘Honk if you love Jesus!’ sticker on its bumper. She narrowed her eyes in an annoyed glare. She gunned it and swerved around the offending vehicle.
When she reached Nebraska the world turned to flat brown plains. The only thing that broke up the monotony was the occasional barn or cow. Even the barns and cows were brown. It was brown and empty and boring.
“Thank fuck for music,” she muttered to herself. She popped a CD into her stereo and let the music occupy her mind. “Whoa, we’re halfway there! Whoa! Livin’ on a prayer!” She sang along at the top of her lungs.
After nine hours of driving Nebraska gave way to Wyoming. If she had thought Nebraska was boring, Wyoming was worse. Even with the setting sun to cast everything in an orange light, Wyoming was flat and made up of fields and scrubby plants as far as the eye could see. Even the traffic thinned to almost nothing. It was as if the Wyoming state line were some invisible warning to stay away that she wasn’t privy to.
She was almost grateful when night fell and hid the landscape. The world narrowed to what she could see in front of her headlights. Looking out the left or right windows showed only blackness. Every so often another car passed her. Their headlights revealed a little bit more of the world. Otherwise the black was all-encompassing and comforting.
The only downside to the black was that it reminded her that she had been driving for something like eleven hours with only brief stops for gas and to stretch. Her eyes were heavy and she longed to close them.
“I can make it,” she declared. She rubbed at her aching eyes and pressed her foot more firmly on the gas. The car sped along the dark highway. The rubbing helped a little bit, but the longer she drove the harder it got to keep her eyes open. At one point they closed entirely and her head nodded forward.
The blare of a semi-truck’s horn jolted her awake. Her hands jerked the wheel, making her swerve dangerously for a moment. She looked around her, wide-eyed, heart pounding. Frantically, she looked around her. There weren’t any other cars in front of or behind her. She was alone on the highway…
“It must have been going the other way,” she sighed, relieved. She relaxred into her seat. Her hands gripped the wheel tightly to stop them from trembling.
She kept driving, thankfully not tired, anymore. The scare that truck had given her had woken her right up. Almost an hour later, she realized that she hadn’t seen any signs or mile markers as she drove. Where was she? It was too dark to see anything outside her windows. All she could see beyond the area illuminated by her headlights was choking black.
“What time is it, even?” she demanded. The clock on her dashboard was no help; it was flashing 0:00. She tried resetting it to no avail. The numbers continued flashing, somehow mocking her with its stubbornness.
“Fine, then,” she huffed. “Be that way. We’ll try the radio instead. Some DJ somewhere will tell me the time eventually.” She turned the radio on and was met with static. With an irritated scoff she hit the scan button to find the closest station. To her chagrin, the radio scan came up with nothing.
“Oh, come on!” she whined. “I know Wyoming is the literal middle of freaking nowhere, but this is ridiculous!” She hit the scan again. This time it hit a station almost immediately.
“Welcome to the Hotel California,” the radio crooned. “Such a lovely place, such a lovely face.” She felt relief wash through her and waited for the song to end. A DJ took over.
“Hello, Listeners! This is Peter and you’re listening to Your Favorite Music!”
“Whose favorite music, exactly?” she wanted to know with a snort.
“I hope you’re ready for more,” Peter exclaimed. “Make sure you sing along and we’ll all get to where we’re going!”
“Weird-ass nighttime radio host,” she grumbled. “He didn’t mention the time at all! I swear DJs are supposed to do that, right?” She ran a hand through her hair and groaned.
She tried to scan the radio for another active channel. The only one that came up was Peter’s. She cursed her luck and the state of Wyoming and Peter and his damn show. At least the music was good…
Finally, she saw a sign that read ‘REST STOP – 2 MILES.’ She breathed a sigh of relief. A few minutes later found her pulling off the highway. She reached a well-lit parking lot with a small building. The building had a set of glass doors but no windows. There were no signs anywhere telling her where she was. The place was simply bare.
She parked her car and hurried into the building. Inside was just as bare as the outside. The racks that normally held maps or information about nearby attractions were empty. There was a men’s restroom, a women’s restroom, a drinking fountain, and a vending machine. The vending machine was empty except for a pack of Twizzlers and a Snickers bar. There was literally nothing at the rest stop that told her where she was. She stormed back to her car and got inside, slamming the door harder than necessary. She started her car and sped out of the parking lot, back onto the highway.
She found another rest stop fifty miles further. It was the same as the first, right down to the Twizzlers and Snickers bar in the vending machine. The one after was the same. So was the one after that. By the fifth one she was beside herself with fear and confusion.
“What the actual fuck?” she demanded, gesturing furiously. “This is ridiculous! What kind of backwoods bumfuck-nowhere state is this?!” She kicked the vending machine, jostling it hard enough that the Snickers bar fell out of its ring. She ignored it; she wasn’t hungry.
She kept driving. She listened to Peter’s station because anything was better than the oppressive silence. Song after song played. There were no commercials. The only interruptions came from Peter himself.
“And now for a quick traffic update!” Peter exclaimed cheerfully during one such interruption..
“What traffic?” she snorted, eyeing the empty road.
“An accident on Interstate 80 today leaves two people injured and one dead,” Peter reported. “From what we can tell, three cars were involved. Officials on the scene are estimating that a blue Camry drifted out of the right lane and into the left while a second car was attempting to pass. The two cars collided and ended up in the path of the semi-truck, creating a pile-up. Officials say that the driver of the Camry was pronounced dead on the scene. The other two drivers were taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.”
“Ugh,” she murmured to herself. “Poor Camry. I hope the other two are okay.”
“That’s some sad news, there,” Peter continued. “Well, let’s get back to the music, Listeners. Make sure you sing along and we’ll all get to where we’re going!”
Music began playing again. “Don’t worry about a thing,” Bob Marley sang. “‘Cause every little thing is gonna be alright.” Something about the tune soothed her and made her feel less afraid. She gripped the steering wheel tightly as calm settled over her again.
“I can make it,” she said. She put her foot on the gas and kept driving into the night.