Written by Matt Emmett

Content warning: contains suicidal themes.

Dotted white lines streak past in a blur, blending together to create one long, unending divider. Trees reach out from the dark like beggars, their shadowy branches groping for attention. Each trunk is briefly illuminated as the car hurtles along: some thick, some thin.

The music in the car is loud, the stereo turned up close to full volume. Chunky riffs rattle the rearview mirror, but the driver is too distracted to notice it vibrate. Hands gripping the wheel, his eyes flit from side to side, scanning everything around him while the lyrics howl in his ear, screaming that the end is nigh.

Rolling down the window, he lets his dark hair whip around his face, the cabin now alive with the shuddering wind. He breathes in the cool night air and holds it in his lungs, hoping it will soothe the dull ache in his chest.

Headlights catch his attention. Their luminescence holds his eyes firmly, capturing his imagination. With white knuckles, he turns the wheel, angling the car towards the divider, nudging it ever so slightly into the oncoming lane. A blaring horn that manages to pierce through the veil of music startles him into pulling back at the last moment, making him straighten the car.

Heart pounding, he takes a moment to compose himself and stifle the trembling racking through his body. His hands are slick on the wheel, his shaking arms locked at the elbow. A strand of hair flicks toward his mouth and he chews on it reflexively, finding comfort in the familiar motion as he curses himself for flinching at the horn.

Hitting the bottom of a hill, the car groans, but he holds his foot down on the pedal, its protestations unheard over the music and wind. It powers its way up the steep incline, hardly missing a beat in response—its owner overcome with a grim determination that sees him set his jaw and grit his teeth.

The landscape unfolds before him as he crests the hill, forest giving way to paddocks and plains. Feeling as though the whole world is lying ahead of him in open judgement, he guns the car down the hill, working with gravity’s pull. Flicking his high beams on, he sees the thick trunk of the tree he has picked out for himself—its circumference too great for him to wrap his arms around, its sturdy roots slithering through the soil like fat pythons. He sees its lower branches dance in the wind and feels as though the leaves are waving at him, beckoning him closer. Breathing rapidly, he points the car at the base of the grand tree, vibrations from the dividing strip making his teeth chatter as the wheels cross into the emergency lane.

He misses.

He glides past the tree, veering from it at the last moment. Gravel flies as his tyres chew the shoulder beyond the bitumen, the car rocking with the loss of traction. Lifting his foot, he lets the car slow to a stop, his heart in his throat. Resting his head against the wheel, he cries, great racking sobs erupting from somewhere deep in his belly.

Unable to look back, he stays there for a long time, waiting for the storm to pass.

Matt’s work appears in the Myth and Ethereal editions of WORDLY Magazine.

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