This story is now finished and is available as a short novel wherever you find your books. Here are some links for easy access.
Two sisters on an eerie jaunt through an uncertain apocalypse. Brought to you by my love of @a_long_drive, the road trip bot on Twitter, probably.
It’s cold here in the deep desert. The AC crapped out miles ago, ditto the heater, so it’s nothing but windows down for them. Alexis pushes her face into the breeze.
She can smell the ocean from here, even hundreds of miles from the nearest shore. It’s the damnedest thing. She thinks of the ghosts of thousands upon thousands of sea creatures buried beneath their tread. She thinks of smelling the salt of an ocean long gone, faded away into flakes of salt and nothingness.
The wind stings her cheeks and blows the wet right out of her eyes.
Moriah slaps Alexis’ thigh idly, never taking her eyes off the road. “Get back in the car. You look like a damn dog.”
Alexis flips her off. She keeps her head out the window for a few seconds more, partway to annoy the crap out of Moriah and partway out of genuine enjoyment of the sensation. Eventually she does what Moriah says, hauling herself back in the little red car with a small huff. The smell of diesel wars with the scent of salt. It smells like home, and Alexis settles back against the car seat with a happy sigh.
Moriah slants a glance at her. “You done communing with nature?”
Alexis shrugs. “I’m hungry. Are you hungry?”
“I could eat.” Moriah glances at the rearview mirror where there’s nothing but dead space that winks out into nothingness behind the red glow of their tail lights. “Don’t think we’re going to find anything out here though.”
“Yeah. You’re probably right.”
Alexis unfastens her seatbelt and leans over the seat, reaching for her bag in back.
“Hey! Hey, sit your ass down.” Moriah swats at her ass, and Alexis ignores her. “Gonna make me fucking crash,” she grumbles.
“Sit your own ass down. You’re a better driver than that.” Alexis glances at Moriah archly over her shoulder, giving her a grin. “Although not by much.”
Alexis swings back into the front seat holding her prize. She takes her sweet time rebuckling her belt. First, she unzips her backpack and digs around until she finds two smashed PB&Js. She tosses one into Moriah’s lap, keeping the other for herself. She unzips the top of the ziploc and pulls her sandwich out, taking a big bite and licking the jelly that oozes from the corner onto the web of her thumb. She tosses her bag down into the footwell.
“I don’t suppose you’ve got a bag of chips in that magic sack of yours, boy scout?”
Alexis chomps at her sandwich, flicking her backpack open with the toe of her shoe. “Nope. I’ve got—a bottle of warm water, a pack of fruit snacks, and not much else.”
“Ugh, fine. God, I’m sick of peanut butter sandwiches.”
“Me too,” Alexis says, drawing the words out with relish. They’re almost as good as the feeling of finally having food in her belly. She wishes there were more. Just in case Moriah really wanted chips, she adds, “We’ll keep our eyes peeled.”
“Yeah,” Moriah says. She sounds troubled, enough that Alexis glances over. She traces the frown on her sister’s face, the pinched line at the corner of her mouth.
Alexis opens her mouth to ask about it, but Moriah cranks the stereo all the way up. She does it on purpose, to cut her off.
Alexis settles back in her seat, pulling her sunglasses off the dash and settling them on her face, shielding her eyes from the night. Her sunglasses are white, cheap plastic and gaudy, $4.99 from some gas station she can barely remember. Moriah says they make her look like a douchebag, and Alexis says good—they’re supposed to. They’re just what she likes.
She crumples up her sandwich wrapper and throws it out the window. It’s destined to become part of the doomed landscape, just like them all. Guns N’ Roses pours out of their little car’s speakers, streaming desperately into the night.
Alexis closes her eyes, and Moriah drives.
* * *
Alexis doesn’t think she sleeps, but she wakes up sometime before morning. The sun is just starting to stain the horizon blush-pink, the whole world lit up in tones of soft-washed grey. Alexis can still see the stars as faint pinpricks of light if she looks up. The driver’s seat is empty beside her.
She yawns her way out of the car, snagging the hoodie that had been crumpled under her head and shoving it over her shivering body. It’s still fucking cold in the desert. She can see the faint white puffs of her breath. She slams the car door shut, and Moriah looks toward the sound, just for a second, before turning her gaze back over the canyon. She’s perched at the edge of a cliff face, nothing but a fathomless plunge below. Alexis can’t see the bottom, even when she walks over to stand side by side with Moriah, close enough that their shoulders brush.
It looks like an ink wash drawing painted in hues of bruise, livid violets. Caput Mortuum. She glances over at Moriah, the thready black hair whispering across her face, trailing out behind her in the breeze. Her sister is beautiful, Alexis thinks. She studies the proud, crooked line of Moriah’s nose in profile, the serious set to her generous mouth.
She looks back at the canyon. They really drove all night.
“I didn’t think you were ever going to wake up,” Moriah says. Her voice sounds strange. Smaller, Alexis thinks. It’s strange to think of anything about Moriah as small. She’s always taken up all the room there is in every room, every hallway, every outdoor place.
“You could have woken me.” Her voice does it too.
Maybe it’s not her voice, Alexis thinks. Maybe it’s this place, a place too old and big for the both of them. Maybe it’s swallowing them up, the sounds they make sucked into the violet dark below. If she were the reverent type, she might care about walking on hallowed ground, but the only altar she knows is her sister.
“Nah,” Moriah says. “You looked like hell. Figured you could use the sleep.”
“So could you,” Alexis says. Then she says, “Thanks,” belatedly. It’s awkward. Gratitude always is, between them.
Moriah shrugs. “You feel up to driving?”
“Sure.” Alexis holds out her hand and only has to wait a second for Moriah to slap the keys into it. The jagged corners sting her palm.
She doesn’t say that Moriah never lets her drive. She doesn’t ask if she’s alright. The answer is so obviously no.