Noteworthy pick by moderators


A dark literary short story

Part of the collection "The Passengers You Cannot See"

By The Behrg

Reading time
View count

They will call her Monster. Child killer. A seething psychopath. Though right now she is just another hapless driver fighting traffic on her daily commute, unaware of the destination to which she will arrive. For her next stop is not a location, but an act, each road sign leading to the same place. The same word.

Murder is not a location to which one drives, rather it is a location to which one is driven. And yet the destination beyond this act will ensure the woman lives forever. After all, straight is the road, and narrow the gate. But watch closely. Read carefully. For within this tale, the secret of eternal life will be revealed.

Though seemingly ordinary, the difference between this woman and you or me are the passengers she’s picked up along her way, the ones you cannot see. The ones silently goading her to crank the wheel, slam her foot on the gas, and smash her car into the center divider. The ones hoping she’ll drag more sacks of flesh and bones with her as she cruises toward the circular drain easily mistaken as a tunnel entrance. The ones driving her to her destination like a jockey whipping a steed, even though she is the only one behind the wheel.

At the age of six, she picked up her first passenger. Mom had gone through a carousel of boy toys, men of different ages and sizes, each entering one car door and, after a few miles, departing through another. Occasionally they’d leave behind a memento, grease stains on the seats or smudges on the windows. A spot of vomit on the carpet that gelatinized into a hardened mass. But though Bill Sturges left her mother and their lives after fourteen months—a longer courtship than usual for her mother—he never got out of the vehicle. He became a fixture, a part of the car’s interior. A festering wound that, whether picked at or not, never healed.

He shattered the girl’s arm with a toaster. Not just a break; in the x-ray her bones looked like a window pane that’s had a rock thrown through it. But she quickly learned his outbursts and sudden fits of rage were her fault, not his. Because she interrupted him during a game. Because she laughed too hard and too loud. Because she was too stupid to know what was good for her. Because her momma was a good lay, but good lays came with fine print, and she was the excess baggage. Because, if he ever had a daughter, he hoped to God she’d be brighter than her.

The arm healed, though it still aches in the winter, and the feeling in her thumb and forefinger are just this side of numb, but despite her mother moving on to other men, the girl never moved on. Not fully. Bill’s large hands remain forever on her shoulders, turning her about; his voice a constant echo in her ear, a reminder that it’s her fault.

It’s always her fault.

Teachers and friends, bullies and neighbors—all occupied space in her car, coming and going, though never staying. They’d leave behind food wrappers or smudges on the windows, torn seat cushions and an array of graffiti—scribbled, spray-painted, even carved into the overhead cloth and upholstery. Every one of them tried to have some permanence in her life, branding a mark they hoped would remain, unaware that in so doing they became just like all the others, for trash blends in best with other trash.

The next permanent passenger was one she hoped would never leave. Seventeen, and in love. It was a storybook moment. It didn’t matter that Devin Cook was ten years her senior, or that he traveled for work, or that he’d sometimes not get back to her for days at a time, setting her world spinning like a top at the edge of a high-rise building. It didn’t matter, because he always caught her in time. Kept that top from coming to a complete stop, or from sailing over that edge into the oblivion beyond.

They built a future together, constructing it one bucket of sand at a time, until their castle became a village—a city—with towers that went so high they blotted out the sun. At least until the tide came in.

Wave after wave beat against what they had built, dashing walls and towers, cityscapes and elaborate tunnels; waves that couldn’t be stopped. For Devin Cook already had a family. A wife. Kids. Two cats. A mortgage. A neighbor boy he paid to mow the lawn every other week. Their life together was the fantasy, and soon Devin Cook disappeared beneath the undertow without even raising a hand to wave goodbye. Without reaching out for her to save him, which she would have—despite having watched their castle erode into just another common bed of sand. She would have. Because she loved him.

It’s been years since that beach was laid flat, but no matter how many times she’s taken her vehicle to be detailed and cleaned, there’s always sand in the crevices of her seats. It grinds in the seatbelt lock, preventing the latch from fully clicking in. It puffs up from the floor mats, and blows fine grains out from every air vent. She’s gotten so used to the sand being a part of her life that she expects the meals she eats on the go to have that granular crunch, swallowing it down with the bile that threatens to rise every time she thinks of what could have been. The castles no one will ever know of.

Other lovers have entered and exited her car, though she makes less frequent stops these days and is far less likely to unlock her doors. One brief encounter, a stranger whose name the woman can’t even recall, provided the unfortunate seed that spawned the next permanent passenger in her vehicle. One that required a car seat.

In a movie montage, the car seat coming straight out of the box would gently begin to show its age, with discolored stains and plastered crumbs appearing. It would then be swapped for a high-back booster that would similarly age, followed by a booster with no back until, at last, only the regular seatbelt would begin to show frayed edges and signs of use.

But in the woman’s vehicle, the car seat was never replaced.

It still resides in the backseat, a relic that has aged only from time, not use. The plastic edges are cracked, its fabric and designs long faded, but there are no crumbs. No stains. Only a dangling mobile that occasionally spins with a hard turn. And yet that presence, and its angelic or demonic cry—take your pick—can never be silenced. Not even when the rain pounds against the roof and windows of the car. Not even with the radio turned up as loud as the cheap tinny speakers will go. Not even when the woman screams herself hoarse, trying to hear her own voice over that repetitive wail that knows no consolation, that will not be stopped, for ghosts—real ghosts—are louder than thought. And far more determined.

Other passengers include a boss who exacted much more than an eight-hour shift out of the woman, and a psychiatrist who got off on coaxing her patients into overdose and suicide (and who is now serving time, while concurrently occupying a seat in the woman’s car). There’s even a supermarket teller who would follow the woman around the store anytime she entered, just to make sure she didn’t steal anything. The vehicle is crowded, filled with competing voices that prevent the woman from thinking for herself, or at least hearing the thoughts she might otherwise have.

And so, as the tunnel approaches, the woman does what any sane person might when pitted against an army of conflicting viewpoints and belligerent backseat drivers. Ones that can’t keep their hands from scraping against the wheel. Though there’s a tunnel ahead, the woman knows from experience there will be no exit. No light announcing an end. This tunnel leads only to further darkness.

Somewhere behind her, Bill Sturges reminds her it’s her fault.

A quick calculation; a single turn of the wheel. The car seizes, intending to continue its forward momentum despite the unexpected change in direction—though really this is the direction the woman’s been heading all her life.

Like the chamber of a revolver, the world begins to turn. For a moment while airborne the other passengers are silent, surprised by the woman’s sudden initiative and determination. Or perhaps they’re contemplating the end result of their actions, and just whose end such a result will include. For in driving the woman towards her final stop, the collateral damage will stretch beyond the dozens of vehicles that will pile up in what will be known as the most horrific traffic accident to occur on Interstate 40. For with the woman’s life, their own lives will also be extinguished.

But our story does not end here, with the death of a single woman. Hauntings rarely do. Besides, this story has always been about achieving eternal life.

With the woman’s death, she moves from one vehicle to many. Though she no longer sits behind the wheel, she travels down hundreds of roads, accompanying those drivers who cannot forget. Those that lost loved ones in the crash. That lost the use of their legs, or watched as their own elaborate sand castles were laid to waste by an unforeseen tide. Their lives have been permanently altered by the passenger who has taken up residence in their cars, the one reminding them that nothing is safe. That tragedy will strike without reason. That once its icy fingers are around their throats, it won’t ever let go.

The passengers you cannot see. We each have them, driving as we are down our own unfettered highways. And yet how many other vehicles have we inhabited, our whisperings and secret thoughts guiding those drivers towards an early exit? One that doesn’t end with more road ahead. We, too, can help those drivers live beyond their mortal lives, spreading throughout the cars of those with whom they come in contact. For the goal, if not a happy ending, has always been to live forever. At least in someone’s mind.

For more short stories by The Behrg, check out his collection The Passengers You Cannot See on Amazon.

Other entries by The Behrg

Login or register to vote
Photo of The Behrg

About The Behrg

A former child-actor turned wanna-be rockstar, The Behrg is the author of the Internationally best-selling novel, HOUSEBROKEN, as well as THE CREATION SERIES. His newest release is a short story collection titled, THE PASSENGERS YOU CANNOT SEE.

Behrg lives in Southern California with his wife and four kids where he still plays in a band, plays in fictional worlds of his own creating, and plays--quite poorly, he might add--at being an adult. When coloring, he does not stay within the lines.

Connect with The