Life is a highway, I want to ride it all night long
On a lonely stretch of highway sits a roadside memorial. It’s not fresh. The teddy bear placed there years ago is more mildew than bear now. The cross has lost most of its paint. You can still see the ribbons that tied the flowers to the cross, that plastic will never rot away.
Still, is there ever a good time to take one of them down?
Along that stretch of highway — a drive of about fifteen minutes if you follow the speed limit, ten if you don’t — there’s a turnoff to a squat red-bricked house.
It has a novelty mailbox, a jolly whale that opens its mouth to accept letters. Most of it is broken. The tail’s long gone.
The highway isn’t easy to drive, not during storms. It routinely washes out. The storms seem extra vicious around these parts, making visibility almost impossible.
That’s why Edi made sure to get to the house before the clouds turned the sky black.
It was easy to get in, the lock broken a long time ago by people probably a lot like Edi. Who just wanted to see if the stories were true. Tully was just there to get out of her house for the night.
Together Edi and Tully, the pair of them, set up in a dry spot in the old house. Time and disrepair had left the roof with significant holes, and the main beam didn’t look like it would last much longer. It had a sharp crack in the middle.
“When the clock strikes 10,” said Edi. Edi put the timer out, alarm set.
“We’ll turn into pumpkins?” asked Tully, lighting a cigarette. “This place is going to give us black lung or whatever. Did I really have to hide my car?”
“We need the place to look undisturbed,” said Edi. “And the wrong car in the driveway? Pretty disturbed.” Edi looked out the window. Rain was beginning to drop. Tink-tink, it came through the holes in the ceiling, pattering on the dirty floor of the old house. Tully tugged the hood of her shirt up and puffed away.
Lightning cracked across the sky and the rain went from just dropping, to pouring, to torrential. Edi could almost believe it was enough to wash away the squat little house.
“Well, we’re here until that’s over, then,” said Tully. She tapped off some ash. “I’m not going out there in that, even if you get scared.”
“I’m not going to get scared. I thought you didn’t believe,” said Edi.
“Of course I don’t. But you do. It wouldn’t be the first time. Remember what happened when we did Bloody Mary when we were kids?” Tully chuckled. “I do.”
“I saw something in the mirror. I really did,” said Edi. “Something that was reaching for me.”
“You know what I saw?” said Tully. “I saw what happens if you stare at a mirror in the dark for too long. Whatever you think you saw then and whatever you think you’re going to see now, you’re not going home before the sleepover’s done and the sky clears because I am not walking in this.”
“Don’t you feel the history of this place?” asked Edi, leaning on the windowsill, chin resting on folded arms. The rain poured down, a steady drumbeat, interspersed with rolling thunder. “I can tell the story is true. That’s why no one ever came back here.”
“Wouldn’t take some story to make this place a real estate death knell,” said Tully. “I’d never move here. And it’s not like the old lady had any kids to inherit. I mean, that’s kind of how it started.” She let out an unimpressed snort. “This place is a pigsty, Edi. We’re going to get fleas.”
“Would you rather be at prom right now?” asked Edi. There wasn’t even a trace of an actual question in the question.
Tully made a face. “Fuck, no.” She stubbed out her cigarette and pulled out another.
“Want one?” she held it out to Edi.
“No,” said Edi, “I promised my mom I’d stop. She said I could have our ‘sleepover’ as a treat for quitting.”
“Oh, clever,” said Tully. “So do you want one?”
Edi pushed away Tully’s hand. “I meant it.”
“Okay, fin–” started Tully, before a lightning strike so bright it made them see spots lit up the room. Half a second later, a crack of thunder ripped through the room as though the beam above them had finally broken.
“Oh my GOD!” Tully tugged her hood further up, over her eyes.
“It never gets this bad in town,” said Edi. “I think it’s a sign.”
Tully made a noncommittal noise inside her hood. Her cigarette, unlit, lay by her feet, visible only by the small camping lantern they had brought.
The alarm went off. Edi quickly slammed the off button, clicking the lamp’s light down to the lowest notch to more easily see out the window.
“Get over here, Tully, or you’ll miss it,” said Edi.
“Whatever,” said Tully, unmoving.
As Edi looked out the window, a car pulled into the driveway. A man got out, holding a pink scarf, and walked to the front door. He knocked three times.
“Anyone home?” he said. He knocked again, and asked “Anyone?” even louder.
“It’s just,” he said, “the girl I dropped off forgot her scarf in the car. I’ll go put it in the mailbox?” He waited at the door for a few moments more, then walked to the broken mailbox, opened the whale’s mouth, and put the pink scarf inside. And then he got in his car and drove off in the direction of the memorial.
Edi started the timer.
Ten minutes later, the sound of car metal being crushed by a fencepost filled the room.
“I told you it was real,” said Edi.
“Great. Wonderful. Fuck. I want to go home now,” said Tully.
“It’s still storming,” said Edi.
“I don’t care. No wonder the old lady hung herself,” said Tully, looking up at the beam that had cracked under the woman’s weight. “That guy showing up every year about her dead daughter? I’d do it too.”
“I think we should leave something at his memorial,” said Edi. “You know, to remember him by.”
Tully didn’t answer, just grabbed Edi’s hand and stomped out into the storm to the hidden car. As they drove away, a young woman removed a pink scarf from the whalebox.