Highway, Heading South
© 1999 By Constance Eilonwy
by characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer © Mutant Enemy/WB
for a companion piece, see Highway, Heading North by Batya "The Toon" Wittenberg
There should be rain.
There should be wind, lightning, and thunder—great streaks of lightning, ragged thin scars in the sky, wind that tears at the soul, its howling all the senses can discern, thunder to make gods tremble. Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!
Instead the night is still, soft, while the large black convertible hurtles like a grendel past sleeping houses and stretches of mini-malls, desert, or greenery. There are stars, sparks in a void so limitless that to ponder it would lead to insanity.
There is wind, but not the soul-tearing kind, just the steady rush as the car speeds along the empty highway, the headlights lancing ahead against the darkness. If something stumbled out of the bushes in front of the hood of the car right now, some unspeakable creature of the night lurching into the glare of the beams, there'd be little time to stop—and maybe I wouldn't want to.
There was never enough time to stop. My own momentum, my entire life, my half-life, has carried me careening from one extreme to the next, from earthy, simple, thoughtless pleasure, to darkened malice, to torment and remorse, into a glimmer of light brighter than the first pleasure, and back out again.
There should be rain. This peace, this silence, these remote stars on the gentle sky, they aren't right. The wind in my face, the wind that tickles through my hair, it's too kind, too steady, like a caress. It's too quiet. I need more. More to drown it all out, because if I think about her now, I will stop this car. If I think of her I will not be able to continue south. I will turn this car around and go back to our dooms.
There really, really ought to be rain. Give me rain!
But would that help, if it did? What if the heavens actually obeyed my oh-so-imperious command?
No amount of melodramatic storming will let me forget.
You already received your answer, I hear the stars whisper. Go away. Go fulfill your destiny.
And don't look back.
Looking back is terribly dangerous. Look what happened to Lot's wife. But she is not Lot's wife, and I am not Lot.
I am Orpheus, and if I look back now, my golden-haired Euridice will be trapped forever in an underworld instead of released into the light where she belongs.
A laugh barks out of my throat, and it startles me, as if I'd never heard such a sound before. Listen to you, the stars murmur condescendingly. You think you're some kind of a hero? You have the temerity to compare yourself to Orpheus? He who brought joy to the world with his music? What have you brought but suffering, death, and worse than death?
When was the last time I had a good, long, real belly laugh? I have laughed with her—a chuckle, a smile. That, in itself, is a miracle. No, but before that, before the darkness, there was an overheated room in a tavern on a cold winter's night. Ale flowed like water, the women were buxom and easy, and the men I called friends. Someone told a funny, bawdy story, something to do with a priest and a whore.
A saint and a sinner.
Which one are you?
The wind carries no scent. Inhale, exhale, the muscles work in reflex, the motion no longer holding any meaning or purpose. My right hand comes up, my palm goes flat against my chest as I steer with my left. Under the loose fabric of the shirt is cool flesh, still as the night.
She knew what I really am. Maybe that's why she loved me in spite of it all. Maybe that's why I loved her. Because who else would see it in me?
O, but there were so many reasons to love her. I love her because she is delicate and fierce, a supernova in disguise as a candle flame. Because she is intelligent, brilliant, without being aware of it, and painfully beautiful with little awareness of that, either. Oh, my sweet, lovely, brave lady. When are you going to understand how wonderful you are, in a way that has nothing to do with your destiny? Everyone has a destiny, but few could carry yours with such grace and courage.
Stop. Stop it. Stop thinking. Go numb, go blank, don't remember her eyes, her smile. Stop. And keep going. Just keep going.
She knew what I really was, although she knew me also to be a sinner, and sometimes she saw in me, if not a saint, then a hero.
Neither alive nor dead.
But she knew the truth. I didn't, not until I saw her eyes reflect it back at me.
Neither sinner nor saint.
Just a man, trying to make up for past mistakes.
There should be rain.