The Long Drive

4 09 2010

He’d been driving for hours, alone in the truck with just the sound of the engine and tires on the pavement for company. The radio had long ago ceased working and he’d never bothered to fix it. The day had been cloudy, the rain started after dark. A drizzle at first then a soft steady rain, the wipers going back and forth thunking at the bottom of the stroke. He’d seen a few other vehicles earlier in the day but as the hours and miles passed and he’d gotten further into the country the traffic had disappeared. He just wanted to get home.

The rain kept on and so did he, driving steadily but not too fast for the road conditions. He’d stopped for a meal several hours earlier but was getting closer to home now and the end of the journey was near. The terrain had been mostly flat, but as he got closer to his destination there was more swell and dip, not hills really, just rises and the accompanying dips that followed them. The engine roared along, he knew exactly how fast he was going by the sound of the engine.

He topped a rise and felt a sudden chill. There was nothing there, nothing in the truck, nothing on the road, but something wasn’t right. He wasn’t sure what it was but it felt different now. The engine sounded the same, the tires on the road, it was still raining that soft steady rain but there was something wrong. He thought about pulling over and stopping, but he was only about five miles from home now, it wouldn’t take long and he was tired.

He checked the odometer and wiggled in his seat a bit, just to make sure he wasn’t sleepy. The wipers thunked, swished, thunked, swished, the headlights shone ahead and the truck kept eating the road beneath it heading home. He knew about how long that five miles took, the time passed but the miles hadn’t. the odometer was the same. The road was different, as it should be, but maybe that was the problem, the odometer had broken and the small noise had been lost in the roar of the engine and tires singing.

He drove and drove, he should’ve been home an hour ago now. He saw lights in the distance and kept driving toward them, just a car going in the opposite direction. He knew he hadn’t missed the turn, knew that intersection well.

The five miles stretched on and on, feeling like five thousand. He didn’t know why, but a line from a poem kept running through his head, something about miles to go before he slept. He’d certainly have that tonight. He still felt something was off.

He checked his watch, that too evidently had broken, it was just after midnight. He should’ve been home an hour ago. He’d planned it so he’d have time for a leisurely hot shower then a good night’s sleep. He wasn’t sure what was going on but he knew he should’ve been home by now. Odd too that both the watch and odometer had quit. Nothing but dark rainy countryside flew past the truck as it moved along the pavement. He was losing track of how long he’d been driving. He only wanted to get home.

After what must have been another two hours he realized he should’ve run out of gas but hadn’t. The gas gauge read full, he knew it shouldn’t. What the blazes was going on? Had he lost touch with reality? He didn’t think so. He finally slowed the truck and pulled off onto the shoulder of the road. But as he went to open the door realized he was still moving. He felt panicky. The truck was moving sideways along the road. So he went back to driving, then things were better. He saw lightning in the distance and realized he was very tired, he didn’t want to have to drive through the coming storm.

He turned at the intersection, never slowing down. It felt like he did and he was on a different road. It looked familiar. Had he finally gotten to his long driveway? He was hoping he had. He knew his driveway, the one very crooked tree, just off the road. Yes, he was finally on the last half mile of his trip. And just as suddenly as he’d feel the chill earlier he felt much better after he passed the crooked tree. He was home in less than two minutes. Stopped in the yard and looked at the house.

The lights were all off, well it was later than he expected and he was sure his wife had gotten tired of waiting up for him. He looked at the odometer and the mileage was about right, his watch was fine, it was just gone eleven. The gas gauge showed a half of a tank left and he felt confused and vaguely angry. He left the truck in the yard, grabbed his gear and got out, walked to the house and found the door ajar. He pushed it open and the lights came on. his wife was sitting in the chair by the kitchen table, smiling at him, but she was ancient, wispy white hair, parchment skin, sunken eyes but smiling in recognition. He froze, got a glimpse of himself in the window, just a reflection. He had also gotten very old. At least the reflection was. He looked at his hands, they were the hands of a man in his forties, as they should’ve been. He felt sick. Stood there with his eyes closed and tried to control the wave of nausea.

He opened his eyes and it was like someone had been holding a very large exact photo in front of his wife. She was back to normal now. looking at him questioningly.

He took a deep breath and said hello. She got up and came over to him. Asked if he was all right. He told her he was tired, it had been a long drive and had been raining almost all the way home. She suggested he have a nice hot shower and try to relax. He took his gear upstairs, left it in the bedroom and had the shower. He could smell bacon and eggs cooking. He realized he was hungry. He put on his pajamas and slippers and went downstairs. His wife set a plate of food in front of him and one for herself on the table and they ate in companionable silence. He thanked her for the meal, which got him an odd look. He said he was going up to sleep and she said good night as he started up the stairs. He got in bed and was asleep quickly.

He woke suddenly, in a cold sweat. He wasn’t at home, he was in the truck, driving in the dark rainy night, down the road that didn’t seem to end. He must have fallen asleep at the wheel, very briefly he hoped. The lightning was closer, then the rain got heavier and it was harder to see the road. He wished he had stayed another day in the city. He had to slow down because the rain was heavy and he couldn’t see very far ahead on the road. It seemed to last for hours. He drove and drove. He thought of his wife, he’d been looking forward to being home. He just wanted to go home.

The sun was shining, the bedroom bright with the morning light. He sat up in bed. closed his eyes and opened them again, not sure he should believe what he saw. His wife was still sleeping next to him. He laid back down and gently pulled her close. She snuggled against him and he went back to sleep.

He never said anything about the drive home, he tried to forget that seemingly endless drive. He thought about it, but could never quite decide what had happened to him. After several months he came to be less aware of it, decided it had just been a long tiring drive and he’d hallucinated a bit, but there was always a question in his mind about that night.

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