The Road Home

Winter 1996

There are times when we just want to turn our imaginations off. 'Tis a pity that we cannot do so.

He opens his car door. The interior light refuses to turn on. No surprise there. It's been broken since forever, so he turns the proper knob for the light and positions himself behind the wheel. His right foot on the clutch, left foot still on the ground, he puts his key in the ignition and turns it. After only one false start, the motor comes to life with a sputtering complaint about the cold. He slips the car into neutral and touches the accellerator a bit. Fine, he thinks, the engine won't stall out while it's warming up.

He starts his search for an ice scrapers. He digs under the junk on hte floor of the passenger's side then he snaps himself upright. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a shadow pass the side of the car. Nothing to be seen, though. Just the wind. (The wind doesn't cast a shadow.) Blowing a branch in front of the light or something.

He finds the ice scraper down between the seats, of course. He hauls himself out of the car and closes the door. The light stays on inside the car giving the impression that it's warm in there. The success of the illusion is evidenced by the fact that it somehow feels even colder outside. Diligently he chips the ice off his back window, working his way around to the windshield. He's forgotten about the shadow, but the parkinglot is blanketed in an queer quiet inspite of the noise of the running car.

He's back behind the wheel, the car's in reverse and then headed out of the parking lot. Even the motor seems quiet, more quiet than usual, perhaps in awe of the silence of the world as he pulls on to the road home. The first few miles of the drive are quiet, and uneventful.

Leaving what passes for urban in this area, his car descends a steep hill, slowly because he is not as trusting of road conditions as he once was. The streetlights are obscured briefly as he drives deeper into the small valley, then the lights disappear completely. He notices, but thinks nothing of it. (But streetlights don't flicker if they're being blocked by a hill - they just disappear.) He speeds up a little, having ascertained that the road is indeed as clear as it appears, no glare ice or packed snow to impede his braking ability.

He drives on. The moon has not come out from behind the clouds, but the night is peculiarly bright, except in the shadows. The little hollows in the road begin to deceive him. Several times he slows down drastically, thinking he sees a moving animal of some sort when infact it is only the shadow in a small depression of the road as he approaches. He watches the sides of the road too. He's looking for eyes, deer or dog, so that he can give himself the most time to avoid a collision. Sometimes he thinks he sees some, but they disappear before he can focu on the silhouette of a body. Probably just mica or nails. (Nails and mica don't float 3 feet in the air though.) He's very aware of his surroundings. Perhaps he is too aware.

He is almost home. He looks down at his spedometer and notices that his hands are gripping the wheel tightly. The taughtness of his knuckles apparent against the bright darkness of the road as seen over the dashboard. He tries to relax his hands, flexes his fingers impatiently on the wheel, feeling the tell-tale cold, tightness in the muscles. He's almost there though. Only another mile or so and he'll be home. (But he's no longer paying as much attention as he was. His senses are aware but his mind has turned off the signals.)

Then he hits something. He feels it clunk under both tires on his right side. Was it a branch? An animal? His rearview mirror is unhelpful in helping him discern his victim. He does a quick U-turn but there's nothing in the road. No corpse, no branch. He turns around towards home again, thinking he hit a bad pothole while he wasn't paying attention. He doesn't hit anything the second time over the same road though. (Potholes can't walk away. Neither can branches or animals just hit by a car.)

He tries to think nothing of it as he races down the last mile of the road. He pulls into his driveway, gathers his papers quickly and hurries into his house. He wishes there was someone already

home so that he didn't have to play with the lock to get it open. (He lives alone.) But it opens quickly on the third try. He locks the door behind him again as he enters the house. Then he turns on the light. Safe at home. Safe at last. (Or is he?)

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Last modified by The Dryad 30 June 1998