Driving into Darkness

They drove all day. As the moon rose, under its glow, they could make out nothing but flat, empty land ahead of them.

“How much longer?” Stan would ask.

“We’ll have to go all night,” Denise said. She was driving now, her shift.

“Shoots,” Stan would say, “why are things always farther away than they seem? Geez, I wish we were there already.”

“Yeah,” said Denise. “If this were Harry Potter, we could have used floo powder or port keys.”

“Hey, I’d settle for a broom, a Nimbus 2000 if I couldn’t get a Firebolt,” Stan might say, might laugh. “Anything to get us there faster than this.”

They were both big Harry Potter fans.

Denise had to laugh, even if it hurt to do so. “Eh, are you ready to spell me?”

“Sure, sure,” Dave better agree. “Stop at the next gas station. We need to fill up again.”

After fifteen minutes or so, her mind racing, she saw a gas station coming up. “Phew,” she said, “just in time.”

Pulling up to the pump, Denise sighed with relief. Her back ached like crazy, and she could feel a migraine coming on. “I gotta use the bathroom and pop a pill. You fill it up, Stan. Want anything from inside?”

Stan’s response would be something like, “I could use some kind of drink, but no carbonation. A bottle of water or juice. Something like that?”

“No coffee?” Stan drank coffee like it was going out of style.

Stan would contemplate this. His beloved beverage.

Finally, he’d say, “Yeah okay, a gallon of coffee.”

Denise proceeded through the door of the station/mini-mart. Stan would be unscrewing the cap, sticking in the nozzle, and pulling the trigger. He’d turn, then, to watch the digital number climb upward. He always did that.

Inside, Denise made her way to the washroom. She was surprised at how clean it was. She threw some water on her face, then took a pill for her migraine. Last, she brushed her hair, gone wild with the wind whipping it while they drove.

Satisfied with the way she looked and with feeling like she didn’t need to use the toilet, she went back out into the store and gathered the items Stan had requested, as well as a coffee for her and a power bar.

At the register, she saw a jar collecting money for a children’s hospital. She’d drop the coins she received from the cashier into the box. Her sister had died young, it’d been brain cancer, and she remembered how good the children’s hospital staff had been. Heading back outside, she certainly would have exchanged well wishes for having a good day with the cashier.

Denise stood still as the door closed behind her. She scanned the pumps and wondered if she was hallucinating. Stan and the car were nowhere to be seen. She walked out to the pumps to look behind them, knowing full well that neither Stan nor the car could hide very easily behind them. Nothing.

She turned back to face the mini-mart. The breath flew out of her like a balloon exploding. The mini-mart had disappeared. She trudged slowly to the empty spot where it had been. There was absolutely no sign of it. Not one scrap of lumber, not a shard of glass, not one nut or bolt.

Turning to see the gas pumps again, it was as she feared. They were gone as well. Denise stood in the middle of literally nowhere. All that she could see under the moon were wide-open miles of desert. It was all bright white sand everywhere.

She dropped everything she was holding. At least she thought she did. There was, she saw, nothing in her arms to drop.

Denise stood there staring at nothing but sand in all directions. Not even the highway she’d just been driving upon remained.

She felt faint. Despite having taken her pill, she could feel the pain in her head escalating. From somewhere far away she could hear someone moaning. Then she realized it was she.

A voice said, “Denise? Denise, can you hear me?”

And although she did hear it, when she tried to answer that she did hear whoever it was, she couldn’t speak.

Another voice said, “I don’t think she can, Stan.”

Stan? He was here?

“Stan,” she tried to call out. But the sound of his name would not come out of her mouth.

The pain in her head was pounding now. If her eyes had been open she’d have squeezed them tight against the pain. But her eyes were closed, and she already was squeezing them as tight as she could.

“I think it’s time,” the other voice said somberly.

Denise heard a loud sob. “All right, then, please go ahead.”

She recognized Stan’s voice.

Stan said, “I wish it had been me. I’m so sorry, Denise. It should have been me.”

Denise noticed a beeping sound, repetitive, rhythmic, growing louder.

“Go ahead,” said Stan.

And then, although she strained to hear it, the beeping sound seemed to stop, and the moon set.

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