the misty road: a short story (2007-08)

Foggy evening, S. Knox

(in a compendium of quotes and mentions, this is actually my work)

The misty road sparkled ahead, winding mischievously around yet another copse of trees. She drove it absentmindedly, alternately chewing and sucking a few stray strands of hair as if in deep thought. But her mind was a blissful blank, her eyes taking in only enough information to keep her on the road. She was driving in full automaton mode, riding the curves. As the hair tickled in and out of her lips, she was momentarily conscious of being an extension of the drive shaft, and a slight smile twisted one corner of her mouth upward. 

When she was a kid, she would balance on the flat rail that ran the perimeter of the deck behind her father’s cabin—two stories above the slanted side of the mountain she called home, maintaining her perch by looking straight out at the end of the erstwhile beam and allowing her feet to place themselves. One. in. front. of. the. Other. All the way around, completely relaxed. She never fell, not once. Not even when the rains came and washed half the mountain into the valley below. Not even when her father left and never returned, not even when her mother ran banshee-like from the back door, screaming his name over and over and over into the still summer heat

History flowed over her like a current of water, or electricity, or wind, and she was only minimally aware of her place within it. Her smirk became a full smile, became a grin. Her right foot became slightly heavier. Currents of wind and history lifted the damp hair from her mouth, sent it swirling with the rest in a tornadic fright wig that ebbed and flowed around her shoulders and the headrest and the sagging fabric that covered the ceiling of the 81 Oldsmobile. It whipped out the open window and back into her eyes where it brought tears, which she wiped with the back of her hand, again without thought. 

And still the fog grew thicker, until it began to obscure the edges of the curves, which continued switching back and forth up the mountain in familiar ripples. This one, that one, that slight glimpse of split rail, there where erosion pulled with the persistence of time at the crumbling asphalt, there where she once saw a raccoon with a chicken head gripped hungrily in its jaws, there where the trail head began. Left, right, inertia, up up up. She rode it like some girls ride horses, like some women ride their lovers, swaying slightly, aware of her body only inasmuch as it was a part of everything around her. Passive, yet in control, the weird paradox of being in the moment… still her horizon grew closer, impinging upon her perspective in a slightly unfamiliar way, erasing the familiar signposts at the edge of her vision.  Still the fog grew thicker, forcing claustrophobia and an increasing awareness that while it was a frequent visitor to these parts, it should be dispersing with the increasing altitude. 

Yet—

A more solid blur of white to her right, just within the periphery of her vision. Legs, arms… human? What?

Without slowing, she shocked back into the present, looking sharply to the right, over her shoulder, seeing nothing but the familiar gradients of black, grey, brown, and green that was the evergreen forest at dusk. And the fog, of course. Turning her gaze forward again, she nearly missed a sharp curve to the left, her tires squealing as she banked the hairpin sloppily, no longer a part of the machine. Now apart from the machine, now fully human, fully aware of herself as a soft and vulnerable sack within a cage of unwieldy steel hurtling around an unforgiving precipice. Adrenaline coursed unbidden through her arms. Her grip tightened on the vinyl of the wheel, worn smooth by years of use from palms other than hers. Her vision adjusted, or tried to, to the road and the wall of fog that encompassed it and the car and the

blur that ran across the road. Ran? Flew?

Her foot went instinctively to the brakes, tapping, but the adrenaline brought on more than a tap. Slight whip of the neck took her eyes from the asphalt momentarily. She saw briefly the dials glowing ghastly green, the gas gauge leaning toward empty. She trained her vision over the dash again, almost hesitating to look, to see

something, a shadow, to the left

to the left

To the left rose the wall of the mountain, hewn long ago to widen this once human-sized path (and before that, what? Bear? Wildcat? Raccoon? What hunter, what prey?). Rocks and roots and earth, all perpetually moist and musty. Fungus and moss and ivy, she’d climbed it enough to know what to expect, and she also knew there wasn’t room enough there by the road for anything to conceal itself from her view.

She drove on, slower now, looking to the left, looking back over her shoulder, scanning the wall for signs of the creature that had so recently interrupted her reverie. Nothing. She looked up the rocky wall. Nothing. 

Turning back to the road, she had just enough time to register shock and begin moving her foot to slam the brake pedal as her car struck something stationary, something standing in the middle of the road. Standing there, staring at her. She met its eyes (human, forward-facing, leering?) as her car struck its body, sending its head flying toward her windshield (yet slowly, amazing slowly, single frame by single frame) until it struck with a sickening thump, the glass spiderwebbing (fractal patterns, repeating, a thousand thousand branching paths like etchings of a map of time a map of time a map of the mountain and the history of its inhabitants known and unknown). 

Her eyes squeezed shut as her forehead struck the wheel, hard, and they did not open again for how long it did not matter. When they did open, everything was dark, her car was drained of its life, the fog had insinuated itself into the cabin and into her mind, and some of her life was pooled in her lap. Her blood-blackened jeans were the first things of which she was aware. They seemed to sparkle in the darkness (from what light? she wondered). She stared into them for an eternity

her left eye filling with

drips, down down

trickles…tickles…

a breeze a breath moving

her exposed neck

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