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"Road Trip" by Nolcha Fox & Barbara Leonhard

The moon is a vacancy sign, and I want to pull in for a rest. But the parking lot is full of stars, their headlights blinking through the dust my tires kick up. No room, no room. I must drive to escape the darkness, a mouth ready to swallow me whole from this lonely road. I fade into the crumpled map in my hand. No Google Maps police directing traffic on my phone, this is a moment of silence.

Forced to proceed, guided by the eyelids of shadows. Slits of moon gaze. Night eats the gas, and I hope to make it before dawn. Some food left. Why don’t I plan? Nut bars, a half thermos of coffee, sliced apples. A short trip, they said. But the road stretches like a rubber band, ready to snap. The farther I drive, the farther away I feel. In the woods along the road, eyeshine follows me into a mist. And then a thick fog.

A hazy amber halo shines through the fog. A gas station. I pull in for gas, coffee, and something to quell the queasiness in my gut. Maybe hunger, maybe anxiety. I’ll know which in a few minutes. The counter guy asks how much gas. His skin is sallow, his face gaunt under the fluorescent lights, his eyes shining emerald green. I think zombies, and my stomach does a backflip. Definitely anxiety. Driving at night is another one of my terrible ideas. Just as I’m hopeless at planning, I’m hopeless at not listening to the warning bells vibrating this saggy old body. I pay for a jumbo-size coffee, some candy bars, and gas. This road will either boomerang me back home or snap me to my destination.

The fog finally lifts like a balloon rising. The road darkens into the shadows of trees lurching toward me like zombies, but do zombies’ eyes reflect headlights? I shake off the image of the man at the gas station. I wouldn’t be here were it not for my grandmother passing, and her memorial service is on Sunday. I’m not used to traveling alone, especially at night. Cataracts. Up ahead I see someone walking alongside the road. A young girl? Out here alone at night?

“Are you OK? Do you need a ride?” I notice that she’s shivering in a red windbreaker.

Her car has broken down. I don’t recall seeing one. Maybe the fog swallowed it. “I could use a ride to my grandmother’s.”

“You too? Hop in.” I brush the candy wrappers off the passenger seat.

In the washed-out glow of the overhead light, her thin, pale face looks barely held together, a vanilla cake with the top layer sliding off. Something about her is familiar. I don’t know what. My stomach somersaults.

“Wait a sec,” she looks down, fishes in her pocket.

I raise my hands in surrender. “Take whatever you want, just don’t hurt me.”

She looks up, her feral eyes glowing green. And morphs into the gas station counter guy. “You forgot your change.” He puts a quarter and two dimes on the dashboard.

The counter guy opens the car door, looks back at me. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to pick up strangers?” His grin is toothy, lupine. “Drop by on your way back. Coffee is on me.”

The door slams shut. In my rearview mirror, I watch a wolf lope into the fog.

Author Nolcha Fox’s Note: This collaborative flash fiction piece started out as Zuihitsu, a form Barbara and I wanted to explore. I don't know if we succeeded at the form, but we had lots of fun, and came up with a story that surprised us both. We alternated writing paragraphs (excluding dialogue immediately following the paragraph, which we considered an extension of that paragraph) I started and ended the piece.

Nolcha’s poems have been curated in Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Alien Buddha Zine, Medusa’s Kitchen, and others. Her poetry books are available on Amazon and Dancing Girl Press. Nominee for 2023 Best of The Net. Editor for Open Arts Forum. Accidental interviewer/reviewer. Faker of fake news.

Barbara’s work appears in online and print literary magazines, journals, and anthologies, and her poetry has won awards and recognition. Her debut poetry collection, Three-Penny Memories: A Poetic Memoir (EIF (Experiments in Fiction), which is about her relationship with her mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, is a best seller on Amazon. Also, on Spillwords, Barbara was voted Author of the Month of October 2021, nominated Author of the Year for 2021, and recognized as a Spillwords Socialite of the Year in 2021. Barbara is now Editor for MasticadoresUSA. She enjoys bringing writers together and has been sponsoring open mics and readings on Zoom during the pandemic.

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