Encroaching Night [Short Story]

The two of us drove for hours without stopping.

My limbs had grown tired and sore sometime during the drive, but I couldn’t remember when. My hands gripped the steering wheel as I forced myself through the pain.

The headlights did their best to cut the encroaching darkness and a dim blue hue hung around us. We pushed on as the car’s heater did nothing to dull the coldness.

I watched as she reached out and poked the air freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror. Her hands were encased in several gloves to keep them warm, but they still shook slightly from the cold. The freshener didn’t move.

“It doesn’t bounce anymore. It’s lost its life.” She sighed.

The freshener was a Christmas tree-shaped cut-out once fragrant with the artificial smell of pine and newly fallen rain. I’d bought it for her on our first road trip to disguise the smell of empty chip packets and old soft drink cans she tended to leave lying around the car. That’s what I told her. In truth, it was to hide my own cigarette smell. It never really did a proper job.

The lifeless object hung from its once taut elastic thread that now resembled little more than a limp noose.

We looked at each other and then ahead. Our eyes met for longer than a glance. I think that’s when we finally realised what was going on. Everything finally began to set in. It’s funny how the smallest of things can make you realise the largest of truths.

“Maybe you should get some sleep? We still have a few hours left. I’ll turn the heater up higher and there’s another blanket on the back seat.” It’s all I could think of saying as I gestured towards the back.

She stared at me for a moment. Her eyes seemed to blink a little slower than they usually did, but by then we were both beyond exhausted.

“Where are we going?” she asked quietly.

I had hoped she wouldn’t ask me that. I didn’t have any answers and I was pretty sure she didn’t either. No one did anymore, which was another truth we had to accept.

“I… I dunno. Guess I’m just driving and seeing where we end up. Is there anywhere you want to go? There’s a map in the glove compartment.” The GPS had stopped working a while ago. No signal.

“No.” She answered almost immediately. It was never a good sign and I could see she’d been thinking about that question. “It’s no use.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a tear roll down her cheek.

“Look, everything will be okay. We’ll be okay. I prom- “

“No, it won’t!” She wouldn’t let me try to reassure her. “You can’t make that promise. You can’t promise we’ll be okay when we won’t be. I hate this.” There wasn’t an ounce of aggression in her voice now.

I slumped over the steering wheel. “I hate this as well.” I watched as my breath turned to vapour.

We both sat in silence for a while. She tried to wipe the tears away from her eyes, but they continued to steam out. Not even I could stop her from crying. Not anymore.

The blue light behind us began to peek over the horizon. By then I’d already forgotten how long we’d been on the road. We may have started yesterday evening, but I’d lost track of time.

Everything looked black and grey and dead, like an old silent movie. It reminded me of forest fire aftermaths where nothing survived, not even the sounds.

“I hate this,” she said again. “I hate it so much. Why can’t things go back to the way they were? We were so happy. Everything was normal.” Her eyes were bloodshot now. She blinked a little slower again.

“You know we can’t. We can only make the best of things. Maybe we should find a place to stay. Maybe we should just stop for-“

She touched the air freshener again. This time, it disintegrated into nothing, not even dust. Nothing at all. “Another thing gone.” Her voice was hollow this time.

Her hand touched mine and she squeezed it. “I’m so cold.”

“I’ll put the heater up higher. We’ll drive a little slower, but it’ll be okay. I’m getting cold as well.” My hand reached for the heater’s knob. “It’ll be okay.”

Her voice cracked, “I love you.”

I turned and she was gone. Her clothes, shoes, everything. She was gone.

“I love you,” I stammered.

One of us had to go first.

As I began to cry I wondered how long I could outrun the encroaching cold blue light.