There is No Exit (Flash Fiction)

Another one for Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenges. I have been watching a lot of Twin Peaks lately.

The highway disappeared into the darkness, the driver peering ahead only the distance of the headlights. He had a death grip on the wheel until the hours had bled away into meaningless minute after minute, and he relaxed into the monotony of plowing ahead into the unknown. Trees reached into the sky on either side, framing him in like endless walls of grasping limbs. Though his knuckles were no longer white from fear did not mean that he was no longer afraid, only that the human animal can only hold so much fear before shutting down. And shutting down would not allow him to pull over to the side of the road, because who knew what lurked in the woods? Was it an irrational fear? Maybe. But he knew what he was fleeing. He knew what was behind him. He suspected it could lie in wait in the spaces between trees, or in the void of a ditch that seemed empty except for the muddy runoff of spring rains.

Only the way ahead held some hope. Not much, of course, but by definition, the unknown held the potential to be better. He could imagine all the ways that he could die. Harder to imagine all the ways that he could live.

A curve appeared out of the nothing, after he had been going straight for at least ten minutes, it was hard to keep track of time, the dashboard clock had never worked as long as he’d owned the car, and his cell phone had died so long ago. He had been twitching to check Twitter for hours. Maybe it was hours, maybe minutes. It had to be hours. All these thoughts, then the curve.

His hands and arms and shoulders jerked by instinct, the tires squealed, gravel from the shoulder spit like gunshots into the wheel well, the back end dropped and with it his stomach, the right rear tire suspended over the nothing of the ditch trickling dirty water and god knew what else. He slammed his foot into the accelorator pedal, smoke rose around the car like ghosts coming to call him to their world, and then he was gone. Around the bend.

His knuckles were white again, and his back hunched over the wheel.

Everything he knew was gone, swallowed by the darkness behind him. In the rear view mirror, the red lights painted the night like blood. His family, his friends. If he had been a hero, they would have been in the car with him, but the only thing he could carry was his fear. He had fled. There was a gun in the glovebox, but it was as useless as a soup spoon. Monsters had eaten his world, and all he knew to do was run.

The gas gauge was busted. It had read half a tank for as long as he had been driving. He wouldn’t know the car was dead until it spluttered and stopped. If he hadn’t found the end of this highway by then, he would die with it.

His head was filled with the voices of uncertainty. What had he done wrong? Had he done something to deserve this? Did they all hate him? How could this have happened? Questions chasing questions as the car’s tires chased asphalt until there was nothing but the steady hum of the road and the buzzing of his brain, twinned together like an industrial symphony.

There were no answers. Only the steady drumbeat of his heart, dread made palpable in his pulse. There was no noise in the car but the sound of the engine and tires. In that void, he imagined something that was nothing, hovering behind him, crouched in the back seat, breathing. It made no sound because it was not there. But what did not exist could kill him. He knew that as well as he knew that he had to drive to outrun the shadows.

The silence that was not silence became too much, and he turned on the radio. Static. He angled the rearview mirror into the back seat. There was nothing there. He left the mirror askew and checked it every few seconds. He pressed the Seek button. The radio stations scrolled past in a parade of digital numbers, counting up and then starting again. He was about to hit the knob to turn off the futile search when the rolling numbers stopped, low in the FM band, on the staticky words of an old time gospel preacher.

…like a thief in the night…

The driver tilted his head to make out the words of the preacher, looking for any sign of life from the world he had left behind. Would the sun rise again? It wasn’t possible that he had been driving over twelve hours, long enough to see the smudges of dawn in the narrow band of sky ahead, but he felt like the night had lasted longer. As the broken words of the preacher reached his sleep-starved brain, he feared that he had been driving longer than one night, that the daytime had been swallowed by oblivion.

There was nowhere to run. The darkness had swallowed the world and anything good in the world.

…the trumpet will sound…

He had missed the trumpet. He started to speak aloud to the preacher’s voice, but he could not bring himself to break the silent compact between him and the road noise. He turned off the radio. It would do no good.

There was nothing in the rearview mirror still. Nothing in the back seat.

The world had ended, and he drove on, running from nothing.

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