A Short Story from Seeking …
approx. 2k words.
The Nullabor Plain – Eva’s number-one preferred route because there were no trees to spread black tendrils of shadowy menace, no long branches to scribble evil designs into the bright beams of her headlights. Second preference would be the Devil’s Gate stretch along the Hay Plain, but it had trees. Sparse, true, but still there as gloominess against the night sky. Night was her time; trees interfered.
The long silent track was a symphony. She heard the music of the tyres as they shirred against the bitumen, the hiss of wind as the truck cut through the dampness of idle dew that lay between up and down, the crackle and buzz of insects as they escaped death on the Kenworth windscreen. Splat. Or not.
The live-load on the tray wasn’t solid and still; things slipped and slid and moved, the tie-downs cracked a rhythm in counterpoint to the beat of her heart. Faster and more solid than the metronomes of a human body, the tarp-timpani carried forward and up, clearly audible as she drove through the sound waves. Eva powered her way into the long straight stretch of white-lined road edged with crinkly black salt-bush shrubs; felt the world weighted down by the black sky that surrounded everything. Glimmers flickered and danced as the M31 galaxy slid past. Eva’s spirit rejoiced in the ease of a path through time.
The engine hummed and purred under her hands, a beast she could handle with love and care. Her beast, her world, her passion.
So many times she’d run away and been dragged back to a house that wasn’t a home, to a place where the scratching of trees against glass hid the sounds of pain and fear. Never again.
Eva found what she loved the moment she sprang herself up into the cab of a big long-hauler. A big rig. The smell – the hot juicy gasp of grease and oil that bit at the back of her throat. The music came straight after. Clitters and clatters and pings and squeaks – all a pattern of resonance that intensified how Eva saw things, felt things, experienced reality. It was under her skin, in her soul – she became one with the beast as soon as her hands clasped the solid connection through the steering wheel.
The rhythmic heartbeat of night-drivers. Freedom.
“Yeeeeeee-haaaaaa!” she screamed with one hand fisted out the window and her bum off the seat.
Her right foot went down and the sounds increased in tempo to match her breathing to the speed. Ruts and stones pinged as the wind from her beast tore a path through the territory, flora swung and swished, fauna stayed the hell away from the monster with the four great eyes that barrelled down the highway. Home.
Slowly, slowly, her breath eased, her foot lifted, the speedo levelled out to match the little circled numbers she soared past. Oh, to be able to move as one with the acoustics of her beast. A deep breath – in through the nose and out through the mouth – to come back to rational and aware.
There were dangers, even here. Watch the shoulders, watch the shadows, wait to see what’s waiting to leap.
She hadn’t seen a dead animal for a while. Unusual. More common to see at least five carcasses each night. Usually rabbits, sometimes a furry, lumpy thing that was beyond recognition; the occasional kangaroo. What an animal they were, no fear of the road at all – stupid things even ran into the side of stationary vehicles.
The moon was straight ahead, rising above the barely discernible ridge of the world.
“But we’re heading west,” she said. “The moon doesn’t rise in the west.”
Maybe it was time to stop and get a nap before the final push into the widest desert zone. It was the sort of hallucination she’d learned to acknowledge. Years of experience said it – if she didn’t stop, her mind would make up pedestrian crossings, people on bicycles, horses or camels or … strange lights floating in the air.
Eva geared down to bog-cog, hooted and hummed in sync with the motor as it rumbled and groaned and fought the constraints. She saw the entrance to the truck-stop, the rough, corrugated path of gravel just off the main road that was barely long enough for the two-trailer B-Double. Tonight, she’d be the only one on this turn-in. Good.
Travellers were a pain in the proverbial. She smiled as she pulled in.
The balloon of dust slid ahead, enveloped the cab as the anchors finally forced the beast to a standstill. She wound the window up and waited until the soft cloud of red fell back to earth. Waited two more minutes before winding the window down again. She opened the door and stepped down onto solid ground.
Dry. Dusty. Desert. Darkness.
Her world. She looked up. The dewy moisture cloud sat above her beast like a tease. It wouldn’t reach the ground, not at this time of year – too much heat retained in the road for that. Which meant she wouldn’t have to clean the cab as soon as she got off the plain. Another good thing. Dust was easier to deal with than mud.
Time for the check-the-rig ritual before she took the mandated rest session. Eva walked the lines, checked the ropes and pulleys, lifted the tarp at the inspection points, checked the load, checked the wheels and tyres, ran a hand over her creature as she did the job.
The ticking of the motor as it cooled, the creaks and groans of the ropes as they unstrained and slackened, the gentle skirring sweep of the canvas as it wound down to tranquillity. Her sounds.
Well, not quite hers. It was like borrowing a baby and pretending she was a parent; a temporary parent. Or a grandparent, a nanny perhaps, who always had to give the kid back. Soon, she’d have enough to get her own rig. Eva patted the metal as she walked back to the front of her loaned child.
From the front of the beast, one hand hooked over the ’roo-bar, she looked out at the ground level vista. It was different to being up there; less real, somehow. Or too real.
The longest straight road in the world. The longest stretch of treeless plain. Straight, featureless, isolated. Quiet. Peaceful.
The bright white light to the west – must be a big truck – grew larger with each breath. It floated above the stretch of black tar, disembodied. Eva lifted a hand over her eyes to get a good indication of how far away it was. Easy to estimate how long it would take for things to arrive out here. A flat plain – well, almost flat – gave good visibility over long distances. Many times she’d seen the lights and not seen the actual vehicle until up to forty minutes later. And this was a big one – had to be to have such good lights – so maybe travelling slower.
Maybe not. Who was out here to see if the restrictor was disabled? What if it was unencumbered, a bob-tail? Hmmmm, time for a change of estimate.
Time-check. How long since she first saw it? Only a few minutes, five at most, and it was big, so it appeared close. Maybe it wasn’t so close. Maybe it had those new lights – illegal, of course – that gave wider play from the multi-faceted reflectors.
Nah. Couldn’t be. The batteries wouldn’t last more than a few minutes, even if … She raised her head, tilted her neck and brought the cover of both hands over her eyes.
Too big. And too close. Moving too fast. She could hear it. A low thrum. Feel it, as shuffles of dust sat just above the surface of the gravel and vibrated in a rhythm she’d never known before.
Her heart skipped a beat. Something new? Her feet skittered an impatient dance. She wanted to see it, wanted to know what made the blood-thumping music. Power, that’s what. Sheer, raw power. Added to it was the increase in her pulse, the rapid intake of breath through her open mouth.
Nothing to do but wait ’til it came over the last dip-that-wasn’t-a dip and then there’d be no hiding whatever it was. The only thing certain in Eva’s mind was that it wasn’t a civvie vehicle. Not a hairdryer, not a double-bubble, not a ute, not a mummy-truck. Not one of the common trucks. Not a heavy rigid. They usually lived in close to a town or city – not good for night transport – too slow, too hard on the body. Even with the best ’roo-catcher, they were dangerous; rigid’s owned the highest accident rates.
Had to be something articulated, the driver high up over the world with overhead lights, but this one she didn’t recognise from the sound or the play of light. An HA she hadn’t come across – was there such a thing?
The lights – or, more precisely, the singular light because she could only see one – spread out like a mushroom laid on its side, with a definite front edge and a smaller initiating point. So, not an anteater. Would’ve been nice to see the new design, but these lights were too different. And most lights faded into the night, they didn’t have a sharp edge or the small, pinpoint of origin. Other lights penetrated to give the longest vision; this light was zoned into a specific shape – a volume light? On a truck? Phhhhfffftt.
She had to see it.
Her arm swung her up to the open window of the cab. Eva leaned in for her flask and tapped the GPS-beacon on. They’d know someone was here to share a break with. She sat on the foot rest and sipped the sugary heat of strong caffeine while she waited. If he pulled in, she’d offer the flask and a sammo so she could get a look.
The lights dipped up, then slid slowly down. The last hummock. Next time it did that, she’d see it. The thrum in the ground rose up, jittered through the rubber, juddered the flaps like wings, rose further up the sides of her beast until she felt it in her body. Eva held her hand out, watched as it trembled in the sensation. Her hair began to float upwards, unconstrained by gravity.
Her truck skidded sideways, the rubber flexed and bent in ways it wasn’t meant to, until the rim popped the rubber off with a squeal of pain. Eva jumped off the step and ran to the front, mouth open, eyes glaring.
“Shit!” How did that happen? Was there an earthquake? Out here? Surely not. Must’ve been something stuck in there, or … Well, couldn’t sit around and wait; she’d just have to get to work to fix this little problem. It’d take hours, waste her whole night, force her to drive in daylight when things were too bright, when there were no places to disappear her thoughts into.
Swear words bubbled to the front of her thoughts with loud clamours – so loud she couldn’t choose one to blister the air.
No. She stepped back. It could wait a few more minutes. She’d get the gear ready and wait. The rules of the road – he’d have to stop when he saw a spare out.
The ground under her feet trembled; tiny stones rose and fell with plips and plops and clinks. The shadow of high-level moisture disappeared in a huff of breath.
The roar of the horn or klaxon or siren made her jump – what was that? Not a sound she’d heard before. Ever. As she spun to face it, one hand on the spare wheel ready to drop it out of its lughole, she saw it. Dropped the tools with a clatter she didn’t hear, didn’t feel. Smelled the coffee as the flask teetered and tipped and spilled.
One foot stepped forward. Into the edges of the light.
Beautiful! Sleek, silver-grey in the blue-night light. Long, full trailer – no, not a trailer; it was all one. Glossy edges gleamed sharp as a razor. Not a truck. Not as she knew trucks. Not as humans knew trucks.
The new machine drifted to a dead-stop several inches above the ground. It thrummed.
Eva stuck out her thumb.
Steps without risers and stringers slid out from the smooth wheel-less beast – floated like ice-blocks frozen to stillness in the empty air.
Eva stepped up and smiled as music filled the world.
* * *
I hope you enjoyed the story. I’m still working on the next one, slowly, slowly, but it’s on its way. Sometimes, life gets in the way, sometimes, I just get swept up in the events of life, sometimes, just sometimes, I get to settle in to work . . . Soon, I say, but soon may not be as soon as tomorrow, maybe not even the next day, but soon …
And next week, I’ll share the blurb for the new story. It’s a scary story, so if you don’t like to leave the light on at night, you might want to stay away from this story.