01 Feb The Left/Right Game: Part 5
It’s been a long week, but I’ve finally got to my computer to post the next log. I’ve been working overtime to afford both London rent and Christmas presents. Hasn’t been fun. Anyway I can’t say much more since this log’s one of the longer ones. I’ll try and get the next one up a little sooner.
Thanks for all your help.
The Left/Right Game [DRAFT 1] 11/02/2017
The next morning, everything’s the same.
It’s strange. We’re usually so blind to the quiet consistency in our everyday lives, only really taking notice once something changes. Yet, as I stir a spiral of honey into my oatmeal and glance around the group, it’s the notable lack of change that truly stands out.
Since the previous evening, the atmosphere surrounding the convoy, and the demeanour of each member, doesn’t seem to have altered in the slightest. The night has fallen short in its role as a grand meridian, failing to partition the past and future, and bringing with it neither perspective nor closure. It’s as if yesterday has spilled, like a toppled brush pot, into the next morning, colouring everything with the same temperaments, fears and divisions.
Lilith and Eve sit facing each other, their legs crossed on a plastic groundsheet. Neither are saying very much, albeit for vastly different reasons. Lilith is still preoccupied by her own smouldering indignation, whereas Eve looks overcome with a subtle but pervasive dread. Neither have taken food from Rob’s stove, a decision I suspect Lilith made for the both of them.
Apollo, Bonnie and Clyde are across from me. Apollo is making conversation, attempting to revive his usual good humour. Bonnie and Clyde help him out, laughing at his jokes, and smiling along with his stories.
Bluejay hasn’t stepped out of her car all morning, eating her own rations and maintaining a welcome distance from the rest of the group. Her eyes meet mine as I look her way, and I’m treated to a sharp, sardonic dismissal.
And Rob? Rob is attending to the practicalities of the road; serving breakfast, then topping up the Wrangler from one of the hulking jerry cans. It’s clear the routine is comforting to him. I can easily imagine this is how he deals with a great many problems. Compartmentalising. Recasting himself as a blunt instrument engaged in a set of necessary processes. He’s made himself too busy for grief, and will likely remain so until the feeling fades.
As coping mechanisms go, it isn’t remotely healthy. I should know. I’m doing pretty much the exact same thing.
AS: Clyde, could I get a few words?
Clyde looks up from his food, a little surprised.
CLYDE: You want me?
AS: Hah, yeah… if that’s not too much trouble.
CLYDE: Oh no no, no trouble at all. You want to do it now? I’m not too hungry.
AS: No me neither. That would be great thank you. Would you mind if we moved away from the stove?
Clyde nods keenly. Putting my bowl to one side, I take Clyde to the edge of the apple grove. Nobody looks after us.
CLYDE: How are you holding up Bristol?
AS: Getting there. How about you?
CLYDE: I’m uhh… yeah I’m getting by.
AS: So can I ask… why did you choose Bonnie and Clyde as your call signs?
CLYDE: Hah well it came pretty easy. We used to play outlaws when we were kids, one time Bonnie stuck up a bank.
CLYDE: Well, no it was an ice cream parlour. But Bonnie was pretending it was a bank and then she ran in, holding her hand like a gun. Told Mrs Gilford it was a stick-up.
AS: Wow, that doesn’t seem like her.
CLYDE: Oh no she was a wild child. Always living in a story. Anyway, we got free sundaes and a new nickname in town after that. When Rob told us about the call signs it was the first thing we thought of.
AS: It’s a good choice.
I pause, letting the previous subject fade before launching into the next one. All things considered, this may be the last time me and Clyde are on such casual speaking terms.
AS: Bonnie told me she talked to the hitchhiker.
Clyde’s disposition shifts. There’s sudden alertness that wasn’t there before, rushing to the fore in immediate response to my words. In the following silence, at the centre of his wide eyed stare, an educated guess suddenly becomes much more.
CLYDE: Wh.. when did she tell you?
AS: I’m sorry Clyde… she didn’t. You just did.
I can almost see the stone fall in Clyde’s throat. The deep, burning embarrassment and hurt that comes from being deceived, from a close secret you held getting out into the world. I don’t feel exceptional either. Lying to Clyde, bringing him away from Bonnie under the guise of an interview… beyond the personal abhorrence, it also flies in the face of everything I’ve tried to be as a journalist.
Clyde can’t bring himself to talk, so I press forward.
AS: I think it might be best if you call Bonnie over here.
Nodding vaguely, Clyde wordlessly shuffles back to Bonnie, whispering in her ear. She puts a hand on his shoulder and helps herself up. Whatever he’s told her, she doesn’t seem angry as she joins us beneath the shade of the apple trees.
BONNIE: I didn’t want to cause any trouble, a… and Clyde’s been looking forward to this trip for so long I didn’t want us to turn back. I’m sorry.
AS: What happened Bonnie?
BONNIE: I just said two words. I wasn’t talking to him; I was doing what Rob said but then he… I just said “Bless you.” That’s all it was.
AS: That’s it?
BONNIE: Well I… he thanked me and then he was just… so easy to talk to and I thought, “Well I’ve already talked to him, what will a few more words do?”
CLYDE: She hardly said anything else.
AS: What about him? Did he say anything?
Bonnie starts to smile, the same way she did last night. A dreamy, enthused expression glowing with reminiscent joy.
BONNIE: He told me about this wonderful place. Wasn’t it wonderful Martin?
BONNIE: Just a few houses by the sea, but he made it sound so nice.
CLYDE: Bonnie, please…
BONNIE: What’s wrong? I can talk about it right?
When I look back to Clyde, his lips are firmly pressed together, his facial muscles tight. He’s holding something back, but what slips through betrays a poignant dismay.
CLYDE: It’s all you talk about Bonnie. You… you mentioned it a few times after… and since Jubilation you ain’t stopped.
AS: Are you guys talking about Wintery Bay?
Clyde grimaces, and Bonnie grins, when they hear the name.
AS: Bonnie are we heading there?
BONNIE: The hitchhiker said it’s on our way. I’m so looking forward to seeing it.
I can’t say I feel the same, and it’s safe to say Clyde agrees with me. Before now, I’d only heard Bonnie mention Wintery Bay on two occasions, but it sounds like she’s talked about it a whole lot more. I sympathise with Clyde for what he’s had to deal with. However, the gross irresponsibility of his actions aren’t lost on me either.
AS: Does Rob know?
CLYDE: I didn’t want to-
AS: You didn’t want to trouble him? Or did you just not want him to turn you around?
BONNIE: I’m alright, really.
AS: Well either way, you need to tell Rob before we hit the road.
Clyde shuffles uncomfortably.
AS: I’m not going to do it for you. But too much has happened on this trip already. Ace is… this place is dangerous ok? There’s no place for lies any more.
I hope that Clyde doesn’t see the irony, given that I’ve roundly deceived him in the past five minutes. He nods, takes Bonnie’s hand, and walks slowly towards the Wrangler. Rob is loading the last of the fold up chairs into the back of the car. The conversation doesn’t last long, but by the end of it, Rob rests his hand on Bonnie’s shoulder and sends them on their way. He doesn’t look mad. Perhaps he just has other things on his mind.
That’s the second thing I’ve done today that’s inherently non-journalistic. I was supposed to be a fly on the wall for this story, a passenger, recording events with objective detachment without my own influence seeping into proceedings. In many ways I wish I still was. But the stakes are higher now, and though secrets make for good editorial, they’re also potentially damaging to the safety of the group. Following the incident with Ace, I’m slightly less concerned with an unbiased story than I am with getting home to tell it.
Rob looks like he’s about to make his morning address. The group wanders over, some more reluctantly than others, and gathers around the Wrangler.
ROB: First things first, I want to say that… well… tempers got a little heated last night, and that I’m sorry for my part in all that. I wanna thank you for coming with me this far, and if you wanna turn back, well that’s just fine.
The group stays quiet.
ROB: If you are headin’ back. I’d say if you travel one by one, be sure to stay on the radios, retrace the route and follow all the rules that applied when you were gettin’ here. Now can I get a show of hands, who’s wantin’ to keep goin’ on the road?
I observe my compatriots closely. The definites will be Bonnie & Clyde, who have already implied that they want to continue, and also Bluejay, who feels she has nothing to worry about from the road. Apollo is in the wind, and Lilith & Eve are probably a split vote. All in all, this could be the moment our convoy splits in half.
Bluejay throws her hand up lazily. Bonnie and Clyde, predictably, raise theirs. Apollo raises his a few moments later.
APOLLO: Hey, I’ve come this far.
That leaves Lilith and Eve. After sharing a brief glance with her friend, Lilith raises her hand and Eve follows suit, albeit with an air of trepidation.
I’m surprised that no one’s turning back, after everything that happened yesterday, but it’s clear everyone has their own reasons. I’m just glad I don’t have to say goodbye to anyone. I set about trying to divine everyone’s motives for continuing on the road, but I quickly stop when I realise everyone’s looking at me.
AS: Oh sorry. Yeah I’m in… I’m going… that way.
I gesture to the road ahead and raise my hand redundantly.
ROB: Well ok. I guess that’s everyone then. We got a fair way to travel today but there ain’t much to see. Just follow the rules and take things as they come I guess.
As we pull out, I start to feel a little restless. The sedentary nature of travel is beginning to take its toll, and I’m starting to feel overfamiliar with the Wrangler’s passenger seat. I’m glad that I got a chance to stretch my legs last night.
Rolling, Elysian corn fields span the roadside for the next five hours. Turns are few and far between, but Rob’s attention never wavers. I only manage to grasp his attention briefly.
AS: Aren’t Jeeps supposed to have poor fuel economy?
ROB: They ain’t the best. That’s why I always bring gas along.
AS: It’s just… the fuel gauge has hardly moved since we left this morning.
ROB: Haha. You noticed that huh? I was wonderin’ if you were gunna.
AS: Why, what have you done to it?
ROB: Nuthin’. It’s the road. Makes fuel burn slower.
ROB: Ain’t just that either. You finish your food this mornin’?
AS: No… why?
ROB: Hardly anyone did, ‘cept Apollo. More you go, less you need to keep goin’.
AS: Ok… wait you said the road pushes against you.
AS: But now you’re making it sound like it’s helping us along.
AS: So it’s hostile whilst also incentivising us? That sounds odd to me.
ROB: Sounds like life to me. Reasons to stop, reasons to keep goin’.
I suppose that makes sense. Despite his well-documented obsession with the secrets of the road, Rob seems to have a strangely laissez faire attitude to its internal logic. It’s like the road doesn’t need to make perfect sense to him, or at least he doesn’t expect it to yet.
As the fresh rural air drifts in through the windows, I lose myself in the hypnotic endlessness of the passing fields. I wonder how many eyes have seen these vistas. I wonder where we are, not geographically, but in a grander sense. Are we still in the world as I know it? Are we beyond it? Below it? Or have we just slipped through the cracks, into some intermediate domain?
Rob slows the car down to a crawl, a precaution he takes before most corners. My eyes wander gently back into the Wrangler, finally resting on the rear view.
There’s something behind us. A humanoid figure, shrouded in the soft focus of considerable distance. It staggers quickly toward the convoy, unsure on its own feet.
AS: Rob what is that?
Rob follows my gaze to the rear view mirror. His brow furrows.
ROB: Somethin’ new.
Rob grabs the receiver. Before he can make an announcement, the speaker splutters with static, followed by Eve’s frantic voice.
EVE: Guys there’s something behind us… guys? Something’s coming after us. Bluejay can you see it?
Bluejay doesn’t answer. I doubt she considers it worth her time. A squealing panic rings out over the radio as Eve calls again.
EVE: Is it from Jubilation? Guys? Guys?!
ROB: Stay calm everyone. Let’s pick up the pace a little.
Rob lets his foot rest heavier on the gas. The Wrangler gently accelerates, with the rest of the convoy eagerly matching our speed.
APOLLO: Who is that Rob?
ROB: I ain’t so sure, but we got a turn coming up. Let’s just get ourselves off the road, see if he follows.
The figure continues to stumble towards us. Its arms hang crookedly in the air and, as it comes into sharper focus, I can just make out that there’s something wrong with its face.
EVE: Guys speed up, please. Please.
LILITH: Calm down.
EVE: It’s coming for us!
I can sympathise with Eve’s panic. I’ve had the luxury of travelling at the head of the convoy. I was the first across when that godforsaken pine was dropped across the road. Eve is now second to last, relying on three other cars to make their escape before she can follow. Ace had to wait for the rest of us, and it cost him everything. Now Eve & Lilith are one car closer to being where he was.
EVE: It’s face. Oh my god! Oh my god. Guys please!
BLUEJAY: Jesus, shut up!
APOLLO: Hey that is NOT helping. Rob it’s movin’ pretty fast we-
ROB: We stay the course. It ain’t caught up yet just-
EVE: Oh god. Oh god, oh GOD!
Rob’s warnings are cut short by the screeching of tires. Eve swerves out of the convoy’s neat, single file line, and onto the empty stretch of road beside us. The car accelerates past Bonnie & Clyde. Past Apollo.
I get a brief glimpse of Eve & Lilith as our windows align.
Lilith is yelling at Eve, trying to get her to calm down. Eve is screaming into the air, the puppet of her own frenetic terror. The car shoots past us and down the long road ahead. Rob swears and picks up the radio.
The figure continues to lurch towards us.
ROB: Ferryman to Eve & Lilith. Stop the car right now.
LILITH: Eve slow down!
ROB: Eve goddamnit you’re gonna-
I stare through the windshield as their car stops. Not a slow, grinding deceleration, but an unequivocal, immediate halt. Their bodies are thrown forwards against the safety glass as the car becomes utterly motionless.
AS: Rob what’s happening?
ROB: I told’em to be careful!
AS: Why what’s-
I no longer need an answer. I realise that it’s written right in front of me, etched into the side of the road. A brief gap in the endless rows of golden corn, only a little wider than the Wrangler itself. A dirt track the leads off to the left, about ten metres ahead of us, about fifteen metres behind Lilith & Eve. I now understand why Rob was being so careful, and why Eve should have been as well.
They’ve missed the next turn.
ROB: Ferryman to all cars. I’ve found the turn, let’s make it quick. Eve and Lilith you stay in the car. I’m coming back to get you both.
Rob flicks on his turn signal, preparing the group for the sharp left corner, and slams his foot on the accelerator. Lilith and Eve disappear behind a wall of corn as we pull down the dirt track. Rob keeps driving, until enough space is left for the rest of the group.
Once they’re all safely pulled in, Rob climbs into the back of the car, grabs his rifle and jumps out onto the path. I quickly climb out and follow behind him.
When we arrive on the main road, the figure has covered a considerable distance, finally drawing near enough for me to see what’s wrong with its face. At a certain point, midway across the crown of the head, running in a straight line down past the cheeks and under the jaw, the head simply stops. It’s like the foremost section of his skull has been sliced cleanly off, and has bent inwards, his entire face concave and shrouded completely in a deep shadow. A ghastly, organic hood, that seems deeper than physics should allow.
That isn’t all that’s wrong with the picture however. The man’s outstretched arms are bent in several places. Dark purple contusions blossom at every unnatural joint as if his arms had been broken multiple times. His leg is also bent to one side, the reason for the irregular walk that still carries him towards us.
Rob looks shaken as he raises the rifle to his shoulder, bidding the figure turn around.
The man ignores Rob’s demand, continuing its march. Even when a bullet hits it square in the chest, the figure hardly slows down. We’re forced to jump out of the way as it continues down the road, Eve and Lilith cowering in their locked car as it approaches.
Fear shifts into confusion as the creature passes them by, and continues down the road. It’s as if it doesn’t even know we’re here.
Rob breathes a sigh of relief, lowers the gun, and runs back to the rest of the convoy. The moment he leaves, my mind notes something peculiar. It’s an utterly bizarre observation, especially considering the many otherworldly facets of the retreating creature, there’s something familiar about it. Specifically, its fashion sense.
The shirt, the dirt covered jeans. They aren’t dissimilar to the ones I found in the brown leather duffel bag, resting atop the block of C4.
Reaching into my pocket, pulling out my phone, I scroll through my list of contacts. As the man heaves himself down the road, I call the second number I discovered last night. The one in the Nokia’s received calls list. The number that likely belonged to whoever created the bomb, and whoever was driving the car that day.
After a few moments, a ringtone disrupts the creature’s silent walk. I end the call, realising how reckless I’ve been and praying that the strange figure doesn’t see my action as an excuse to turn around.
I’m lucky, this time at least. The dial tone cuts out, and the figure continues to stumble its way toward the horizon.
The next thing I hear is a scream.
Scanning for its source, I see Eve, her door open and with one foot out of the car. She’s frantically pulling at her leg, seemingly unable to lift it from the tarmac.
AS: Eve what’s going on?
With shaking fingers, Eve clumsily unties her shoelace, and lifts her leg back into the car. Her boot stays in place, and it’s possible to make out a slight elasticity to the road below it, a depression in the tarmac around its base. Slowly, and steadily, the sole of the boot disappears into the road. Eve watches as the dark tarmac slowly sucks the boot down, enveloping the heel and dragging it beneath the surface.
The thought comes to Eve the same moment it does to me. We both fix our eyes on the back of the car, where same, soft indent is gradually developing around the tyres.
Eve’s terrified scream is drowned out by the blare of revving engines. I jump out of the way as the rest of the convoy reverse out of the corner and back onto the main road. Bluejay, Bonnie & Clyde, Apollo and finally Rob, park themselves chaotically around me. Rob jumps out and approaches.
ROB: They ain’t pulled back yet?
As soon as he asks the question, he sees the sight before him. Only the neck of Eve’s boot remains above the ground, sinking ever further into the tarmac. The road gradually but voraciously churns at the car tyres, consuming the rubber, and swallowing the lowest edge of the wheel cover.
In the midst of such an impossible sight, all I can say to Rob is:
AS: They’re trying.
Lilith & Eve hit the gas hard. The engine growls at the road as it furiously attempts to reverse, the undercarriage creaking and groaning from the sheer mechanical strain. The wheels themselves, however, don’t rotate an inch. The tyres belong to the road now, taken by the unknowable forces that continue to drag them into the earth.
The engine chokes, defeated, and I can see Eve screaming into her fists as the roadway calmly continues its work.
ROB: Goddamn it we can’t reach’em. Tell’em to get on top of the car.
APOLLO: What the… What’s happening Rob?
ROB: Bristol! Tell’em to get on the roof!
Rob marches off to the Wrangler. The rest of the convoy gather on the road, just in line with the left turn, where we assume it’s safe to stand. Everyone, saving for Bluejay, looks on in anxious silence.
AS: Eve! Lilith! I need you to get on top of the car ok? Guys?
EVE: We’re sinking! Oh fuck… oh fuck we’re-
AS: Eve! I’m trying to help you. Rob’s working on something, but you need to climb onto the roof of the car. Don’t think about anything else. Open the door, wind down your window and use it as a foothold.
Eve is still deaf with worry. Lilith doesn’t hesitate. She places one hand on the upper rim of her open door, one foot on the base of the open window, and her free hand palm down on the car’s roof. The door rocks on its hinges as she puts her weight on it. In one strong motion, she pushes herself backwards until she’s sitting atop the car.
The tarmac has swallowed its way to the car’s lower chassis. Eve stares, transfixed by the road as it pulls her ever closer towards it.
LILITH: Sarah look at me!
Lilith is crouching on the car’s roof, her hand reaching down to Eve. Her friends voice seems to be the only thing that can break Eve’s fearful commune with the waiting abyss. She turns around, Lilith’s hand a few inches from her face.
LILITH: Get up here.
Her eyes brimming with tears, fought back by rapid, shallow breaths, Eve grabs Lilith’s hand. Lilith gets a solid handhold around the lip of her own doorway and heaves Eve up and onto the roof of the car. Eve shrieks a little as the door swings, putting all her trust into Lilith’s grip.
She joins her friend on the roof just as the road consumes the lower edge of the door, spilling inside the car’s cabin like magma.
ROB: Damnit they’re too far away.
Rob has returned from the Wrangler, rapidly uncoiling a braid of long, light blue climber’s rope. I’d seen it resting in the back of the car during the trip, never once thinking that I’d see it used.
Rob threads one end of the rope through a carabiner and secures it in place with a tight knot. He holds it to his side as he shouts to Lilith & Eve.
ROB: Ok listen, we only got one shot at this. I’m gonna throw you the hook and you’re gonna catch it and yank it taut ok? Then you can hook it onto somethin’ and climb your way over. Don’t let it fall. Ok?
Lilith looks pale. She nods before clambering to her feet, and stepping to the back of the car. Eve watches on, her hands wrapped around her legs.
ROB: Well, here goes nothin’.
Rob begins to swing the rope over his head, a large undulating circle that quickly levels out as the weight of the carabiner eases the rope onto a flat plane. I instinctively shrug down as the rope passes over my head, swinging faster and faster. Gritting his teeth, his face reddening with the towering pressure of this single throw, Rob lets the rope fly. It arcs in the air, like a cast fishing line, towards Lilith’s outstretched hands.
I watch it pass in front of her, the metal of the carabiner glinting in the sun as it falls.
She catches it, grasping the rope in her shaking hands.
Despite her victory, I see her face contort with sudden and striking panic. She holds the rope high over her head, staring wildly down at the road between us. Following her eyes, my heart falls. She caught the rope, but she didn’t pull it taut fast enough.
Even with Rob continuing to hold his end above his head, the rope had too much slack when it landed in Lilith’s hands. It’s fallen in a sloping arc, the lowest point of which has scraped against the tarmac. It only rests a few precious seconds before Lilith finds herself unable to pull it free. It sinks into the ground. The rope starts to brush gently against Rob’s fingers before he throws it to the ground.
ROB: Goddamnit! Ok… if I just got somethin’ else. Somethin’ we can put down.
AS: The empty jerry cans? They could step on-
ROB: Too unstable, and we’d have to throw them perfect. Ok… ok.
The road has claimed almost half the car now, eating up the licence plate as the vehicle sinks lower and lower. Lilith looks helplessly on as we deliberate, Eve crying her eyes out behind her.
CLYDE: We could get a ground sheet.
ROB: We ain’t got one that’ll stretch.
AS: Well what about-
APOLLO: I’m going out there.
Apollo’s blank statement catches us all by surprise. Turning in his direction, I note a direct and powerful confidence in his manner.
APOLLO: They aren’t gonna last much longer. It takes a second for the road to get you, that’s how they got so far ahead before they stopped. I drive out, they jump onto my car, then we climb back.
ROB: I ain’t got more rope.
APOLLO: You got the winch right? If I drive out with it bunched up on my lap I can make sure it never goes slack. Then I hook it up to my roof bars and we get the hell outta dodge.
ROB: You got the best car for it. But I should drive out there.
APOLLO: You need to work the winch. Bonnie & Clyde can’t climb back.
He skips over his rationale for not choosing Bluejay, not wanting to waste time on a foregone conclusion.
AS: What about me? I’m lighter, the climb back would be easier.
APOLLO: But you can’t help them when they’re jumping over. We’re wasting time, you know it’s a good idea.
Rob takes a moment to consider it, his mind fighting for a better solution.
ROB: You’d better get back here Apollo.
APOLLO: Don’t plan on hanging around there Rob.
Apollo grins before sprinting to his Rover. Rob, wasting no time, runs to the winch, switches it to manual, and unspools the heavy duty rope. His hands cross over as he drops each new length onto the ground.
I turn back to Lilith.
AS: Did you hear that Lilith?!
Lilith is huddled next to Eve, attempting to comfort her as the car’s headlights disappear into the depths of the road. Her head snaps round when I call.
LILITH: What’s… what’s happening?
AS: Apollo’s coming out to you. You have to jump onto his car and climb back over ok?
LILITH: … Ok!
She hurries back to Eve, grasping her friend’s shoulders as she relays the plan.
ROB: Ok that’ll hold.
Rob’s climbing down from the hood of the Wrangler. He’s fed the winch cable around and through the lighting rig, ensuring a good level of clearance on the way out and, more importantly, for the climb back. The rope has already been fed through Apollo’s driver’s side window.
Bonnie and Clyde are helping to throw Apollos’ baggage out of the trunk and onto the rode behind him. The less he has to lose on this trip the better.
ROB: All set up over here.
APOLLO: Ok. See you on the other side Rob.
Apollo slams his foot onto the accelerator. The Range Rover bolts forwards, and powers toward the threshold. The engine roars as he rockets past the left turn and keeps on going, into the territory beyond. In the few precious seconds he has, he crosses the distance towards the two terrified girls. The winch rope streams through the window, and then suddenly, pulls tight.
Apollo is thrown forwards as the car comes to an uncompromising stop, roughly a metre’s distance from Lilith & Eve. The impact looks brutal, but Apollo somehow manages to keep a hold on the rope and, inexplicably, his sense of humour.
APOLLO: I don’t think I got the insurance for this.
Clumsily, still feeling the aftereffects of the sudden stop, Apollo throws open his door and starts to climb out.
APOLLO: Take in the slack Rob!
My attention fixed on Apollo, I hear the mechanical whir as the winch kicks into life. As Apollo climbs out of his car and up onto the roof, he affixes the hook at the end of the winch to one of his roof bars, securing it in place. A few moments later, the rope is pulled straight.
Apollo steps down onto the hood of his car, his arms outstretched to the girls. It’s a short jump, but they’ll have to make it from a lower elevation, the trunk of the car already sinking to ground level.
APOLLO: Ok come on I got you, we’ve got to move fast now.
Lilith stands up, helping Eve to her feet before stepping down onto the rapidly disappearing trunk.
LILITH: Ok… ok…
Lilith yelps as she throws herself towards Apollo. Her front foot plants itself on the hood of the car, her other leg flailing in the air behind her. Apollo grabs her by the arms and yanks her onto the car, holding her close to him as she gets her bearing on the smooth metal of the hood. When she’s stable, he lets her crawl up onto the roof, where she immediately looks back to Eve.
APOLLO: See Eve, nothin’ to it. Come on now.
Eve paces back, her hands shaking as she contemplates the jump. Fighting against her screaming instincts, Eve squeals as she steps across the trunk and makes the leap across. The toe of her shoe lifting off the car mere seconds before it descends into the murky, black pitch of the road.
Eve lands short of her destination. One desperate, grasping arm makes contact with Apollo’s as her legs bang and scrape against the Rover’s grill, scrambling for any conceivable purchase. Apollo is wrenched sideways by the force of Eve’s landing, thrown off balance by the unexpected application of her whole weight. In the gut churning moments that follow, Apollo tugs Eve up to his chest and wraps an arm around her, his centre of gravity passing over the edge of the car.
The fall takes a lifetime. Wrapped in each other’s arms, Eve and Apollo tumble forward towards the patient, ravenous ground. In the split second before he leaves the hood of the car, Apollo uses his last inch of footing to push himself into a slow turn. The twist continues as they fall, until Eve is looking to the road, Apollo to the pale blue sky. In one final action, Apollo pushes Eve’s waist, holding her at arms length.
Apollo’s back thuds into the asphalt, his head smacking audibly against it. Dazed and concussed, he manages to hold Eve aloft, keeping everything but her feet from joining him on the hard ground.
APOLLO: Get back up… quickly get back up.
Her face shredded by fear and guilt and sorrow, Eve stares into Apollo’s eyes and whimpers. Collecting herself, she pushes herself off him, ripping out her laces, and leaving a shoe and a sock behind as she clambers back on to the Range Rover. With every movement she whispers a quivering apology.
APOLLO: It’s ok. It’s ok. Go on. It’s ok.
He repeats those two words over and over, until I’m not even sure who he’s talking to. The road elasticates around him, dragging him down into its depths. Eve looks back to him, her face cringing in misery.
Bonnie buries her face in Clyde’s chest, unable to watch the next few moments unfold.
EVE: I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.
APOLLO: It’s… it’s alright. Just get going ok? It doesn’t hurt… it doesn’t hurt, really.
Apollo’s ears sink beneath the road. Entering a new world of perfect silence, Apollo sees the end nearing.
APOLLO: Oh god. Rob! ROB!!
I won’t play his final moments, for your benefit and, ultimately, for his. Before he sinks into the road, Apollo asks for Rob to talk to his family. He wants Rob to tell them that he loves them. Rob nods, knowing that Apollo won’t be able to hear his response.
After a few cries of panicked despair, Apollo’s eyes and mouth are enveloped by the road. His screams are drowned by the thick, churning asphalt.
Eve watches the rest of his body sink, while Lilith tugs at her sleeve, pulling her towards the roof.
LILITH: Come on we’ve got to go. Sarah we’ve got to go!
EVE: I’m sorry.
Whispering one last heartfelt apology to the air itself, Eve steps up with Lilith and stares at the cable.
AS: Ok guys just let yourself down until you’re hanging from the rope and work your way across.
LILITH: I got it! You ready?
Eve looks to her friend.
EVE: I… I don’t…
LILITH: Just watch me ok? Follow right behind me.
The Range Rover’s wheels have now disappeared. With every passing second, the cable’s clearance diminishes, and the angle between the roof bar and the Wrangler’s lighting rig becomes steeper. They need to start moving now or not at all.
Eve looks across the length of the rope. I can feel her mind kicking back at the prospect.
EVE: I can’t.
LILITH: Sarah… we fucking have to ok? Follow behind me.
Lilith wraps her arms around Eve, hugging her stiff, shivering frame, before letting go and crouching down to the rope, slowly working her way under it. Her hands clenching the cable, her legs wrapped securely around it, Lilith starts to pull herself along the rope, shifting her feet up every few seconds behind her. She fixes her eyes on me as she drags herself to the halfway mark.
LILITH: Is she following?!
The asphalt swallows the Range Rover’s lower chassis. Eve hasn’t moved a muscle. The stretch of black tarmac might as well be a bottomless ravine, the Grand Canyon. The idea of hanging herself over it mortifies her.
AS: Sarah! Sarah it’s not as bad as it looks, please! Please come on.
Lilith crosses the threshold. Her knuckles are white as she continues to cling to the rope. Rob marches up to her and helps her down into his arms, coaxing her hands free by telling her that she’s safe.
As soon as her feet hit the ground again, they give way beneath her, and Lilith sinks to the ground crying out.
LILITH: Sarah! Come on please!!
EVE: I can’t! I can’t… I…
LILITH: Please Sarah… I need you here.
Her shallow breaths quaking with anxiety, Eve slowly crouches down and grips the rope. Slowly but surely, as the asphalt consumes the car’s licence plate less than a metre below her, Eve lowers herself down and, with clumsy desperation, drags herself along the rope.
She’s left it late. Her back hangs mere inches from the hungry ground as she shuffles unevenly towards us, lifting her feet and scraping them up the rope, her arms straining to stay locked.
EVE: I’m not going to make it!
LILITH: You are! Keep going!
The Range Rover’s window is now disappearing, inside the dashboard has been submerged. With every yard that Eve manages to climb, the lowering rope ensures she stays close to the ground, even over the final few feet.
My heart breaks the moment her foot slips.
It happens almost too quickly to register. As Eve erratically shuffles her feet along the rope, her bare left foot gives way, swinging underneath her and kicking down onto the ground. Eve tries to raise it in time before discovering that she can’t.
LILITH: No… no no no please.
Thrown entirely off balance, Eve tries to pull herself up. However, with her lower leg seeping into the dark tar, her position can’t be maintained. She falls, her body twisting, as she falls onto the road.
Lilith releases a terrible shrieking cry. Eve whimpers as the side of her head rests against the tarmac, her cheek already subsumed.
EVE: I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
LILITH: No. No. Please don’t be sorry.
EVE: I.. love you. I love y… you Jen.
LILITH: I love you too… I’m sorry I didn’t… I’m so sorry.
Eve tries to reply, but half of her mouth is sealed shut, encased in the creeping asphalt. Her short breaths finally melt into one long inhalation, as her nose and mouth are sunk entirely.
One remaining eye takes a final, fleeting look at Lilith, before vanishing.
I look away from what is still to sink. The important things are already gone.
Lilith collapses on her knees, a screaming of torrent of grief expelled from her burning lungs. Rob is completely immobile, likely searching for something practical in which to bury himself. Bonnie & Clyde simply look lost, as they turn their backs on the sinking Range Rover.
Bluejay’s reaction surprises me. She stares into the tarmac, the smirk ripped from her face, replaced by a familiar look of shellshock. She repeatedly mutters something under her breath, something that sounds like:
“It’s not real… It’s not real.”
We stand in silence for what seems like an age, accompanied by the breeze and Lilith’s gradually waning laments. After she’s exorcised the immediate torment, her screaming descends into a deathly stillness.
Rob makes the first step to approach her.
ROB: I… I can take you back home if you want to-
LILITH: No… No.
Lilith wipes her eyes, as tears continue to fall freely down her cheeks. When she turns around, she looks enraged.
LILITH: No. I’m still going. I’m going to get to the end.
ROB: You know I can’t tell you when that’ll be.
Lilith stands up and glares at Rob, then looks over to Bonnie & Clyde.
LILITH: Are you guys still going? Do you have a seat free?
The siblings look to one another. Bonnie nods.
CLYDE: You got a place with us if you want it.
LILITH: Is the door unlocked?
CLYDE: Uhh yeah.
LILITH: Then what the fuck are we waiting around for?
Lilith marches to Clyde’s Ford and climbs into the back seat. She waits for us impatiently to finish up.
ROB: Anyone else want to turn around?
Rob looks to me and Bluejay. Bluejay sends a look of deep scorn his way before marching off to her own car.
The Range Rover has finally sunk. The road has settled back into a hard, permanent surface. It isn’t like Rob to offer me a ride home, and I feel overwhelmingly like I should take him up on it. But there are too many questions unanswered, too many unchallenged mysteries weaved into the fabric of this journey. Going back now wouldn’t be a return, it would be a retreat.
AS: I’m still going.
A few minutes later, the three remaining cars roll down the dirt track. Leaving another incomprehensible atrocity behind us. There’s a part of me that can’t believe I’m still continuing down this road, a greater part of me is astonished that no one took the opportunity to turn back.
As Rob carries me on to the next turn, and the one after that, I realise we all have our reasons. I’d become obsessed with chasing the truth, as had Bluejay in her way. Bonnie had her own, unsettling motives for carrying on, and Clyde wasn’t about to abandon her. Lilith had directed her smouldering anger and grief toward the road itself, seeking deliverance at its end. And Rob? As far as he’s concerned, there’s only one direction to go.
Still, when I think of the sorrows that have already befallen us, and the potential for unspeakable ruin that lies ahead, I realise that no one in their right mind would continue down this road.
I suppose no one is.