- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
A blue station wagon cautiously negotiated the occasionally twisting, deserted road at thirty miles an hour. The darkness, though peaceful to some, frightening to others, was an enemy to this driver. His irregular heart beat, a nervous tick that only appeared in anxiety-arousing situations, had returned. As a light coating of sweat covered the back of the man's neck, causing an all-engulfing chill, he bit his lower lip in an attempt to suppress the internal agony.
A flicker of light up ahead. He eased in the brake pedal. "Shit! Nothing there. Maybe an animal running across the road." He picked up speed again, the buzzing tires on the wet pavement having an almost hypnotic effect on his weary mind. With no white line to guide him, the entire world to the sides and rear seemed like a sea of black, ready to swallow another victim into its bottomless pit of despair. Why me? As if life isn't hard enough, this, too, has to be happening. Somehow, the darkness seemed more threatening whenever he became nervous.
Rounding a turn, he slowed to fifteen miles per hour and hoped no one was coming from the opposite direction. Safe! No headlights ahead. "Oh, God, where's the sun today?" It was difficult to breathe; he dared not blink his eyes. Would there be a sudden drop-off he wouldn't see, an animal darting across his path, another vehicle coming out from a side lane?
The road straightened again, but he didn't see it quickly enough and had to jerk the steering wheel to the right. "Damn!" He heard the front fender brush against some bushes and swerved to the left a bit too much while his tires squealed; then, to the right to get back on course. Sweat continuedbeading on his forehead despite the cool, morning air. Breathing seemed labored. "That was close."
With the heavy growth of trees lining both sides, Tony kept the high beams on, his eyes searching for the sign he had been told to look for. All he could see was a pool of gray directly in front of the car. There was nothing to the sides, nothing ahead. Where was the world? The building tension was making his left shoulder twitch uncontrollably now and, in a way, he wished he hadn't agreed to come here.
His mind shifted to that near tragedy about a week earlier. He had been driving along Main Street in the bright sunlight and hadn't seen the traffic light turn red. Suddenly, he jammed on his brakes and missed hitting a woman with a baby carriage by two feet. He remembered how his heart had thumped and how he'd said, "I have to stop driving." So, why was Tony still driving? Was he going to wait until he ran someone down or rode off the edge of a cliff to end it for him? Was this part of a death wish?
Rolling down the window, the man inhaled deeply. The spring air was refreshing, lending a feeling of limited tranquility. "That's much better." But, then, his smile soon gave way to a frown as the windshield began misting over from a light sprinkling of rain, further reducing his ability to see ahead.
"You don't like the dark, do you?" There it was again, that voice. Would she ever stop haunting him? Tony shook his head but couldn't clear the sound away. "You're going to drive the car off the road. Then, you'll die, you bastard." The voice laughed with a piercing wail. "Then, you'll be dead like I am. It's because of you I'm dead, you..."
"Shut up!" Tony shouted while stomping on the brake pedal to bring the car to an abrupt halt. There was a raging fire burning in his eyes while the veins in his neck throbbed. Through trembling lips he said, almost crying, "Go to hell where you belong!" He squeezed the steering wheel with both hands and yelled, "Leave me alone!" His voice softened into a plea. "Leave me alone. Please? Get out of my life."
"I'm waiting for you in hell, darling."
When will she ever leave! He eased the car forward and turned the radio on. Nothing but static. Remembering it was broken, he sighed. "Shit." His outburst, a few moments earlier, had been enough to clear his ears of that unforgettable voice.
"Concentrate. Don't listen to her. Just watch the road. It's too dark to be thinking of anything else."
Ever since that tragic day, her voice had been haunting Tony. Not once since then had he enjoyed a peaceful night's sleep. How many times had he awakened to hear her calling his name, laughing at him, mocking, threatening to burn the house down while he slept? Once, he had even dreamed she was standing next to the bed with a rope in her hands, ready to strangle him. He had awakened, screaming, trembling, and began crying for her to leave him alone.
About five minutes later, the sky began to brighten, as did Tony's face. He mumbled, "Thank you, God," while passing the fingers of one hand through the long, black, wavy hair covering the back of his neck, happy for having made it through another bout of night driving. An exhalation of relief came long and loud through a triumphant smile, as if a heavy weight had been lifted from his shoulders. It was then he noticed, a hundred yards ahead, what looked like a large white sign.
Stopping at the "T" intersection, he sighed loudly through rumbling lips and read the words: COMING SOON! VALLEY SHOPPING MALL.
Posted December 9, 2012