I am good with words, but I can’t count. It turns out that I got sidetracked and 13 Days of Darkness only had 11 installments, including today. But! As promised, here is a short story I wrote. I have had this image in my head for years, but it was nice to finally have a reason to write it down and people to share it with. Please enjoy The Face At The Window.
Sam nodded over the wheel for a moment, then jerked back into full consciousness. Not a moment too soon. A switchback in the road loomed ahead. He tapped the break, swung around yet another curve, and sighed.
The canyon would never end.
He rolled down the window and stuck his head out of the car. The cool air would have done more to revive him if he could have driven more than 30 miles per hour. But speeding around the curves of the canyon was a good way to get dead, smash into one of the many cows dotting the landscape, or both.
On either side of him, the sagebrush crowded up against the road. Occasionally the branches reached over the pavement far enough to scratch the doors.
His phone rang suddenly. He picked it up off the passenger seat and looked at the caller ID. I’ll be home when I’m home, he thought, returning the phone to the seat, unanswered.
When the company had informed him that he would be spending more time on the road, Sam was relieved and nervous. Relieved because, after 15 years of marriage, he was enjoying his time at home with Amy less and less. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was just a fact. When two people spent every day together—thousands of days…thousands—they were bound to tire of each other in certain ways. Of course, Amy showed no signs of the tiredness he felt, but perhaps that was because she expected less from life than he did. Was it so wrong that he wanted some excitement? If she truly cared about him—about them—wouldn’t she have made changes?
He was nervous about going on the road because his thoughts had been wandering. On the road he would meet other people. On the road he would meet other women. On the road he didn’t even have to be Sam Smith, if didn’t care to be Sam Smith. Decisions. He might be forced to make decisions. Who knew what might happen? Sam’s conscience retired to bed earlier and earlier these days.
And then, two months into his twice-a-month sales trips, he made a choice.
The woman had been pretty, available, and lonely. He had seen her twice more since their first night together. Each time, he waited for the waves of guilt to drown him. They never did. He began to look forward to each trip. The curves and plodding pace of the canyon were nothing compared to what lay curled up next to him on the other side.
It has actually made things better between Amy and me. The thought made him smile. He wondered if it were true.
At last. The road stretched ahead of him in a straight line. The sun slipped behind the mountaintops and the world faded to gray. Anyways, it’s not like I don’t love Amy, he thought. It’s not like I—
Movement. Movement in the hills ahead. A figure was running down from a hilltop not two hundred feet from his car. Sprinting down the slope. He could make out a pale face above the dark clothes. His heart sped up in time with the car as he pushed the gas.
The figure lowered its head and ran faster, as if it—no, it was a man—as if he was trying to get in front of Sam’s car.
But that was impossible. He would pass the man outside in three…two…one…
The man changed angles abruptly, reached an unnatural speed, and ran straight at Sam’s passenger door.
Sam screamed and leaned into the wheel, expecting the collision. He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth.
He exhaled and yanked at the knot of his tie with numb fingers that felt as if they belonged to someone else. He checked his rearview mirror.
Sam reached for his telephone and dialed Amy’s number. It rang three times and went to voicemail. Hi, this is Amy. If you’re looking for Sam, he’s—
Two black eyes watched Sam through the driver’s side window as its owner ran alongside the car. Above the dark shirt, a man’s expressionless face watched Sam as if the car was a glass case in a museum—and Sam were the least interesting exhibit.
The man’s arms and legs churned easily, effortlessly keeping pace with the car. Sam looked ahead at the road and sped up as much as his car was willing to.
There was a knock at the window.
Sam refused to look.
No. The straight strip of road was ending. The lane began veering to the left in another lazy series of curves. And then he’ll have me.
There was one sharp rap on the glass, and then the face at the window was content to watch only.
Sam accelerated around the curve.
The road beyond was full of cows. He slammed on the breaks, sending the car into a gentle skid that ended with the yellow double line of the road running perpendicular beneath the doors.
His rapid breathing was nearly as loud as the crickets in the sagebrush.
The face at the window watched Sam struggle to speak. It spoke first, but glass muffled the sounds. Sam stared into his own lap as he fingered the switch that lowered the window.
“She knows what you’re doing,” said the face at the window.
Sam turned his head. “What are you talking about?”
“She knows and she is not happy with you. I hope it was worth it, Sam. You no longer exist for her, save for the few memories which she cannot yet shed.”
Sam stared back. “I don’t believe you.”
The face at the window did not smile, but its voice did. “If only that mattered. This canyon has one hundred miles left before leading into Greendale and your own sweet home. We are going to have a race. If you win–”
Sam shifted into reverse and pushed the accelerator.
“Oh, I’m afraid you can’t go back,” said the face at the window. “Only forward. Forward into the canyon. But at least you won’t have to worry about these silly things anymore. Move.”
The cows shuffled off of the road.
“There now. If you win—you will never see me again. Perhaps Amy will even take you back, although I must say, you do not deserve her forgiveness. Now then—you of course, get to use your vehicle. I greatly prefer the canyon on foot. Ready, then?”
“Wonderful. Off we go.”
“Wait! What if I lose? What if—”
“Oh…my friend, you think you want to know, but you really do not, believe me. If I were you, I should spend the next minute strategizing. Very good, then. Shall we?”
The face at the window loped ahead, over the cattle guard, and around the bend.
Sam turned the key and followed. The man in black was just ahead. When the car caught up to him, he slowed his pace and ran alongside the window again. The face at the window stared in at him, close enough to create small patterns of condensation on the glass, running at precisely the same speed as Sam’s car.
After twenty minutes Sam began to plead. Ten minutes later he began to sob. When he passed the sign that read GREENDALE: 10 miles, the road straightened out. The canyon had ended.
Sam pushed the accelerator to the floor. The car leaped ahead, as did the face at the window.
“Please,” said Sam as he crushed the steering wheel in his fists.
The face at the window disappeared as the man outside lengthened his stride and ran ahead, just beyond the car’s fender.
The face looked back at him through the windshield. A pale hand waved just before the man in black sprinted ahead into the dark.
Sam reached the top of a hill and looked down into the shallow bowl which cradled Greendale.
The town was not there. The lights he had returned to so many times were gone, replaced by a thick blackness that repelled the light of the risen moon.
A knock at the window.
Sam looked at his phone, still riding shotgun under a wrinkled hamburger wrapper. He lowered the window.
“I’m afraid you lost, my boy,” said the face, floating in the dark. “But come now, don’t look so glum, am I really such poor company?”
Sam looked into the black eyes. “Where’s the town?”
The face at the window smiled. “Never mind that. It certainly doesn’t have any bearing on your future, so I would not trouble myself if I were you, although I must say…I am glad that I am not you. Pity.” Pale hands rose before the pale face and clapped several times.
“Now then. The next town—supposing it is where we think it is. Where we hope it is—the next town is supposedly three hundred miles in that direction. Just to be a sport, you may have a head start of five minutes. Roll up your window, please. Turn the heater on. You might as well be comfortable. You may have a long drive ahead of you.”
The car rolled slowly towards the void where Greendale had been.
The face at the window followed and watched.
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