Are we there yet?
Jack glanced at the rear view mirror at the two girls in the back seat. Sarah was playing a videogame while Josie’s brow was furrowed.
“Yes sweetie? What’s the matter?”
“Are we there yet?”
“Not yet, soon.”
“How soon? I need to go to the bathroom.”
“Can you hold it?”
“No, I need to go number two. Really bad!”
Jack cursed and looked at the sky. The winter sun was low, tingeing the clouds orange. They had less than an hour before darkness.
The temptation to push the accelerator into the floor rose in him on a barely suppressed wave of panic. He fought the urge and kept the speed at a level sixty.
“Daddy? I need to go now!”
“OK Josie, there’s a rest room in a couple of miles. Can you hold it till then?”
Josie considered this and then nodded.
“Daddy?” said Sarah, looking up from her game.
“Will Mummy be waiting for us when we arrive?”
Jack winced and for a moment he saw Karen; screaming as the black smoke poured into her, her eyes turning black as her soul was consumed. Hatred on her face. The gun in his hand. Noise. Blood.
“Yes Sarah”, he said, voice cracking as he pushed back the wave of grief. “I’m sure that Mummy will be waiting for us.”
“Good,” said Sarah, returning her attention to her game. “I miss her.”
Silent tears ran across Jack’s face and his knuckles turned white as he gripped the steering wheel.
“So do I, sweetheart, so do I.”
The car pulled off the highway onto a graveled area containing a weather beaten shack and a bank of petrol pumps. The bathrooms were in a separate concrete structure. The wind was picking up, sending clouds of dust into spiraling dances across around the fuel pumps. The wind was blowing from the direction they were heading; it felt like the elements themselves were trying to slow them down.
Jack got out of the car and opened the rear doors to let the girls out.
“Go on, but be very fast. As fast as you can.”
“Yes Daddy, can we have some candy?”
“OK – but go on, hurry. We need to get moving again.”
The girls ran off to the bathroom together, giggling. Jack placed both hands on the bonnet of the car and took a deep breath, willing his pounding heart to slow. In the west, the sun was almost touching the horizon, casting long shadows that seemed to be reaching…searching. Jack shuddered and headed into the filling station.
He emerged, minutes later, arms laden with soda and chocolate, but there was no sign of the girls. Fear blossomed in his chest and he ran to the bathroom, throwing open the door.
Sarah was washing her hands in the filthy sink. Josie was still in the cubicle.
“Daddy, there’s no paper,” said a disembodied voice from behind the door.
“Never mind that, we need to go. Now.”
“But Daddy! I’m all dirty!”
Sarah sniggered and started singing “Josie needs a nappy! Josie needs a nappy!”
“Josie, Sarah – get in the fucking car, right this second.”
The girls filed out of the rest room, choking back the tears. Josie shuffled along, pulling her pants away from her backside. They got into the car in silence.
“That’s enough Sarah,” he yelled. “I don’t want to hear another word out of either of you.”
A sullen silence, punctuated by the occasional sniffle was the only reply. Jack hated himself.
He span the wheels on the gravel and accelerated away from the rest room. He pushed his foot down onto the accelerator, willing the vehicle to go faster as he raced the sun. In the distance he could make out the glimmering lights of a town.
He glanced into the rear view mirror, cold sweat beading across his back. The clouds seemed darker; swirling and moving against the direction of the wind.
He gunned the engine, eyes darting between the road and the gathering maelstrom. A bright neon sign proclaimed that the Palm Tree Motel was a mile further along the road. Jack prayed that they would reach it in time. Already the clouds were a broiling black mass that obscured the horizon. Shapes moved within them.
The car screeched to a halt in the motel parking lot and Jack leapt from the car, running towards the reception desk. The girls watched him from the back seat, and recommenced their squabbling as soon as he was out of earshot.
A large woman was sitting behind the counter, watching television.
“Excuse me.” He said.
The woman ignored him.
“I need a room.”
The woman continued watching her soap opera.
“Please – we’ve been on the road all day and my kids are exhausted,” he said, slapping a hundred dollar bill down on the counter.
“We can’t change that.”
“Keep the change, Lady, just give me a fucking room. Now!”
The woman reached behind her and threw a key across the counter.
“Thanks,” he snarled and sprinted from the office.
The girls were standing on the road next to the car. Jack grabbed their bags, a catering pack of salt from the trunk and dragged the girls to the room. His hands trembled as he put the key in the lock and almost fell through the door as it swung open. He threw the bags across the room and slammed the door shut, then poured a line of salt across the doorway and the single window sill.
His task complete, Jack collapsed onto the bed, shaking with terror and relief.
“Daddy?” said the girls in unison.
He turned to them, ready to apologise for his anger. The words froze in his throat.
Black smoke writhed around the two little girls. Their eyes were black as coal and blood dribbled across their chins.
“Are we there yet?”