Well, the Indie Ink Challenge is here again, folks. I have to say, I’m having a great time reading all of the responses to the challenge, and these new ideas are doing a great job pushing me out of the rut I’ve been in.

This time, my challenger was Jason Avant. His challenge to me was:

You’re driving alone, on a dark highway, in the middle of nowhere. Music? Or silence? And why?

It took me a little while to get my mind wrapped around this question. I tend to take things very literally in real life, so my first thought was to tell a story about me driving home from a gig in the middle of the night. But then I reread the challenge and realized that I’m in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere. Nowhere? I think this challenge just got harder.


I hate driving at night.

I’m a morning person. I’d rather take a nap until 3 AM and drive in the wee hours of the morning than stay up all night driving. There’s not enough coffee in the world that can keep me up that late, even when I’m wired from a gig or angry from an argument or excited about something new. Nighttime is not my friend.

I sigh and examine at the inky expanse in front of me. A two-lane highway, stretching off into the dark, with nothing on either side to stimulate my mind. Well, nothing except grass. And cows. Okay, I can’t see the cows, but I can smell them. I know they’re there, lurking.

Do cows lurk?

I check the speedometer. 70 mph: a little bit over the speed limit, but not quite enough that I’ll get pulled over. I could probably go 95 or 100 on this road; there is nobody in front of me, nothing in my way. But if I do go that fast, Murphy’s Law will inevitably be invoked, and the next thing I’ll see will be flashing lights in my rear view mirror. No, best to stay at 70. I set my cruise control and shift a little bit in my seat.

I yawn.

Oh crap, that’s the first sign of sleepiness. I reach for the coffee in my cupholder and start to drink. It’s warm and sweet and tastes like morning. I love mornings. Morning is the point in time where yesterday meets tomorrow, where all the plans for today are laid out, and everything is fresh with no mistakes in it yet.

Not like nighttime. In the night, the darkness confuses things. The day is done, all your mistakes have been made, and all you have left to do is fall asleep and dream of how to fix those mistakes and build things anew. Falling asleep and dreaming of a cow standing in the middle of the road.

A COW IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD????!!!

I slam on the brakes. Before I come to a halt, I realize that there is no cow, only road, and I’m still driving.

Goddammit.

I get my speed back up to 70, set the cruise control again, and open the window. The sound of the wind rushing through the window is a bit like white noise, and although I know cold air is supposed to keep you awake, all it’s doing is making me shiver. So now I’m sleepy and cold.

The smell of cows is fading, but it’s now been replaced with the much more pungent smell of skunk. I quickly roll up the windows.

Nothing, there is nothing on this road. And it’s so straight! Not even a curve to keep me on my toes. I turn on the radio. Nothing but static. I search through the stations, but this late at night all I’m getting is country music and smooth jazz, neither of which are to my liking. I sing along to the tail end of “Dude Looks Like A Lady” on a hard rock station, but I then drive out of range. I can get snippets of BBC World News, but the signal is messed up, and from what little I can hear, the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Ugh, how depressing. I can handle depressing news in the morning, but not at night. Not when it feels like the darkness is closing in on you and you’re the only one alive and aware in the world. Not when you’re not sure you’re going to make it until morning.

My phone buzzes in my purse. My phone! Oh thank goodness, I can talk to someone, anyone, so that I can get through this ride, get through the night.

I search through and pull it out. Glancing at it, I see someone has left me a message. I plug in my earbud and listen to the voicemail: “Hey, it’s me. I thought I’d try to catch you because I’m driving home and I need someone to talk to. Give me a call when you get a chance.”

I quickly redial the number, but I go straight to voicemail. “It’s me. I just got your message. I’m driving too, so give me a call.”

After I hang up, I wait for a few minutes, excited and waiting for the phone to ring.

More minutes pass. I dial a few more numbers, leave a few more messages. I wait.

Nobody is going to call back, are they?

Fog starts closing in, making it difficult to drive so quickly. I slow down to about 45, but the fog is getting even thicker. The light from my high beams is bouncing brightly off the particles of water, and I have to switch to the low beams. I can see only about 20 feet in front of me now. The road is beginning to curve now, and I am regretting wishing for something other than straight road, because it is so difficult to concentrate when my mind is this fatigued. I am trying not to hallucinate, trying not to see those mystical forms taking shape in the fog. Slow down into a curve, I remind myself. Accelerate out of a curve. And whatever happens, don’t fall asleep.

Don’t fall.

Asleep.

Dark Highway
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  • Love this, really well done

  • TJ

    This was great! You really did Jason’s prompt justice!

  • Sweet Jesus I’m glad you lived!! I kept wanting to shout, “Pull over and sleep, dammit!”nnExcellent post!

  • DAMN. “Morning is the point in time where yesterday meets tomorrow, where all the plans for today are laid out, and everything is fresh with no mistakes in it yet.”nnOne of my favorite sentences ever in the history of every post I’ve ever read. So beautiful, so true. I need to think this sentence every morning or write it down and keep it by my bed so I can know it, first thing, to know that I’ve got a stunning white expanse of purity at my disposal and every choice and thought I have from that moment on is my own; my days are what I choose to do with them. nnGorgeous.

  • Marian

    oh, man, please don’t *really* fall asleep driving and/or hit a cow (or a moose, that happens around here) with your car!!! now i am gonna be all worried about you and shit.

  • I love the hypnotic rhythm of this.nn”…it feels like the darkness is closing in on you and youu2019re the only one alive and aware in the world.”nnThis struck a chord in me; I definitely know how this feels. What a well-crafted piece.

  • Thank you so much! I have to admit, however, that I poached that phrase slightly from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, although her quote is “tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it.” The sentiment has stuck with me since I was a girl, and it is how I try to start each day.

  • Zee

    I felt this whole journey. Especially liked the lurking cow smell! Zee

  • Michael

    Fantastic. nnVery vivid. nnThe line about morning is perfect is great. So, so well done.

  • As I read this, I couldn’t help feeling like I was in the back seat… hearing only the sounds of the tires on the road as the fog and silence roll in bringing with them the sleep you are trying so hard to keep at bay. nnThis was a lovely response to the prompt!

  • Omg, you give great anxiety – I want you to be home and in bed so badly! I loved how you kept cursing the night and praising the virtues of morning – that’s a perspective I’d like to adopt. 🙂 Awesome job on this!

  • Sir

    I’ve driven like this way too many times. I freely admit that there have been instances of self-punching involved to maintain consciousness. It’s no doubt highly entertaining to people passing you on the highway, but decidedly less so when you’re both the puncher and the punchee.

  • I’m with Anastacia, I loved this:n”Morning is the point in time where yesterday meets tomorrow, where all the plans for today are laid out, and everything is fresh with no mistakes in it yet.”nI so relate to that. To this whole vignette actually.nAnd “Accelerate out of a curve” could be a life metaphor.nReally good.

  • Oooh, yes! This is so perfectly dead-on. I can remember many a night drive like this.

  • Really, really awesome…

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