Driving halfway across the country, somewhere north of New Orleans, bored, radio dead, and your passenger asleep.
The phone buzzes with a new text message.
Escaping a bad marriage is difficult. If you want to make it out in one piece, you have to plan everything down to the last detail, and you have to do everything perfectly right.
But nothing ever goes according to plan.
What if the reason that things don’t go according to plan is you?
You know you shouldn’t check your phone while you’re driving.
But sometimes you do.
Check your status now with this dark tale of biological horror!
What do you call it when you’re lost and panicking and you feel like you can’t stop, not to ask for directions, not to get gas, not even to pull over on the side of the road and look at a map? What do you call it when you seriously catch yourself thinking “Maybe I should just text someone” while driving?
I don’t know, but I did know I was on a road somewhere in Louisiana with New Orleans somewhere ahead of me. Or behind me. I had the GPS turned on but it hadn’t said anything for the last thirty miles on a stretch of road that seemed much longer, like it had been going on for hours. I kept checking the gas gauge in between quick glances around at the scenery around me.
The road was narrow, without a shoulder, and dropped off rapidly into a steep ditch full of water. The road was patched, rough, full of potholes that made me swerve into the oncoming lane. God help me if I had to swerve at the same time a car was driving in the other direction. Most of the drive, I had been surrounded by thick woods that crowded up to the edge of the ditch, but there were small boxy houses, too, wrapped in rotting porches and cut out of the trees, their shaded front yards stuffed with rusty cars that had no tires, their window glass speckled with dirt.
Now and then an open field would pop out of nowhere, big and green, full of plants I didn’t recognize and bright in the sunlight—sunlight that vanished as soon as the woods closed around us again.
My daughter, nineteen, was asleep in the seat next to me. In the back were two air mattresses, a box full of tools, two suitcases stuffed full of tightly-rolled clothes, a ukulele, a few stuffed animals, and more, as much as I could pack inside the car, with just enough room at the top to see out the back window.
The radio had gone dead shortly after my daughter had fallen asleep. All that I could get on the FM band was static and half-heard mumbling, and I wasn’t about to listen to any AM stations. Trying to find music had given me a headache. I had turned it off.
My phone, sitting in the tray under the radio, buzzed.
I grabbed the phone, cursing myself for not getting a dashboard clip or something, and saw that someone had just texted me. I put the phone back in the tray. At least whoever it was hadn’t called. Was it my ex? I hoped not. What I was doing wasn’t illegal, but it felt that way, like any second I’d get pulled over and arrested for leaving, dragged back and made to stay. Whoever had just texted me, I didn’t want to know.
It was quiet out there. I felt abandoned and alone. And bored. I would have pulled over somewhere but there were only driveways leading straight to houses and small gravel roads leading deep into the woods. It was dumb but I couldn’t make myself pull off onto those small stubby roads. I couldn’t help but feel like I’d get stuck, trapped.
Five miles later, bored and paranoid, I powered up the phone screen to look.
I propped up the phone on my steering wheel and thumbed in the password, looking up at the road in between characters.
I unlocked the phone and brought up my text messages.
I shouldn’t have looked.