by Saniya Doshi
Art by Rick Zhang
Issue: Paracosm (Winter 2017)
Rain pounds down in a chilling cacophony, lightning streaking the sky at regular intervals, as if Zeus himself is furious tonight. Thunder crashes as dark clouds roll across the sky—a spectacular sight, if it didn’t send fear shooting up my spine.
The windshield wipers whip with such ferocity that I’m afraid they’ll go flying off. I squint past their rhythmic flailing, trying to follow the thin stream from the headlights. Just a few more miles and I’ll be home, where I can change into dry clothes, reheat leftover pizza, and catch up on Game of Thrones.
A glint of gold on the road catches my eye. Instinctively, my foot slams down on the brakes. I grit my teeth as the car screeches to a halt, tires squealing against the wet road in protest. I blink back tears—from fear or relief, I can’t tell—as the smell of burning rubber permeates the air and a breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding rushes out of my lungs. What was that?
A pale hand slaps against the window, and a shrill scream scrapes my throat. As the rain-blurred image of a girl comes into view, I roll the window down. “What the hell,” I gasp out, “are you doing?”
She blinks as if uncomprehending. I take this moment to get a better look at her. She looks unearthly by the feeble gleam of the headlights, all golden hair and silver skin. She’s quite young, too, and almost unnervingly pretty. The urge to scold her melts away. She’s probably stranded, just looking for help.
She cocks her head, gazes at me with ink-black eyes. “Can I get a ride?” She has an odd accent, certainly not American. European, maybe?
For a brief moment, I consider denying her request. After all, she’s a stranger.
Her eyes widen as if she senses my internal dilemma. “Please?” she whimpers.
I sigh. I can’t leave her out here; not in the middle of a storm. I nod in resignation. She flashes me a brilliant smile in thanks.
She slides into the car in one fluid motion. I wince at the sight of her dripping hair and soaked clothes on the expensive leather interior, but keep quiet.“Where do you want to go?” I ask, avoiding the burn of her eyes.
She twirls a damp lock of golden hair around her finger. “How far will you take me?”
My brow furrows. “What’s your address?” I try again.
She shakes her head and smiles at me like I’m a confused child. “I asked how far you’d take me.”
Maybe she wants to be dropped off someplace else? “I have to work in the morning, so not too far…” I murmur.
“Will you take me to New York?”
Jesus Christ, this girl really is insane. “Do you know where we are right now?” I enunciate slowly. “We’re in Seattle. All the way across the country.”
She shakes her head again, gives that same patronizing smile. “Again, not what I asked. I want you to take me to New York.”
When I don’t—can’t—reply, she prattles on. “Have you ever been there? The city is so beautiful, so alive… it’s fantastic, really. At least, I think so. I haven’t actually been there, but I’ve seen all the movies.”
I shake my head in baffled amazement. “Is this some sort of scam? Where’s the hidden camera?”
She ignores me. “It’d be fun, don’t you think? Experiencing the world, one city at a time. That’s my dream, you know.”
I roll my eyes and stare pointedly at my watch, thinking about the few short miles between me and my bed. If this girl doesn’t give me a local address within three minutes, I’m kicking her out, courtesy be damned.
She leans forward, hair swinging into my face. The biting scent of lemon and mint hits me. “It would be nice, wouldn’t it?” she says in a low voice. “Just leave everything and go. We could find everything we would ever need on the way. No more work… no more drama… no more ‘same shit, different day’ life.” She pauses, and the silence weighs down on me like a stone.
I shake my head again. “I…”
The gleam of light on her eyes seems to flare. “Come with me.”
I close my eyes, take in her scent. Feel the light brush of her hair on my cheek. And somehow, with her closeness, I can almost imagine it—running away with this strange, gorgeous girl, just two vagabonds with big dreams and nothing material. Spending nights on open, endless road, streetlights and overplayed radio songs our only companions. Exchanging secrets in wine-fuzzed murmurs under city lights. Making love under a silver moon, hanging in a faraway, unpolluted sky.
I take a breath, slow and deep. This vision is just a far-fetched daydream, incompatible with the brutal reality of the world. “Please get out of my car.”
“You’re going to regret this one day. You’re going to wake up and realize your whole life is gone behind you. You’re going to be on your deathbed, still wondering what it’s like to be free.”
I open my eyes. “Now. Leave!”
Her exquisite features melt into an expression of pity. “Goodbye, then.” She opens the door and slides out, withdraws into the night like a ghost.
Watching her retreating silhouette, I can only imagine what would have happened had I said yes.
But, of course, that would be ridiculous.