At the end of the world, there is only salt, rimmed like cheap drinks, on black rocks. There are places beyond comprehension, but they are surrounded by the known, by gravel and the smell of storms, by whirlpools and teeth.
When I meet the cusp of the earth I feel the raw wind of emptiness, of trenches–there is ice under my flesh and road grit in every place that hurts. My boots skid at the slopes that lead to this place of dishonor, slipping past balconies and hanging gardens, my hands catching on glasses of water and flowering vines. I take what I can, but I don’t hold anything for long. Both waiters and debutants wear ash on their crowns and eyelashes, though I do not meet their gaze and try not to blink. I do not consider the remnants of self, though I know I too wear them, that I am soaked in the blood of my ancestors.
I can feel the call of the infinite beyond like hunger at the end of nights, and I let it pull me to balconies and then past them, taking winding mountain goat steps down the jagged stones. In the chandeliers behind me, I am reflected, scattered, swallowed in each crystal chime.
My balance is deft, though the occasional rock shakes beneath my step I never tumble, never stagger. I can adapt to all things. I do not mind the beached fish, some rotted to bones, others less lucky, stepping over and around them as best I can. When I reach the sand it is not long before I feel the sharpness of something, and know that they are here too, just covered a little better. I could not smell the rot over perfume, but it is closer now.
When I reach the ocean I do not pause, wading beyond the rocks, feeling how the tide sucks at me.
I greet the depths with blood, the warmest thing for miles, and I sink, as all things do.
A. X. Bernkastle
Unearthed in Florida, haunting viewers like you since.
The weather was just starting to turn cold, and every morning I’d worry the temperature had dropped so low overnight that my car wouldn’t want to start. At this point, it was still an irrational fear, but in another few weeks, my luck would run out. Either my car would die, or Hugo’s would close for good.
I blew hot air onto my hands before putting the car into drive. Gravel popped under my tires, skittering along the driveway. As a kid, I remembered this as being one of the loudest sounds in the world, but now that I was older, it almost completely faded into the background. Or it could be that as my car got closer to breaking, the noise of the engine drowned out everything else.
Sometimes it felt like the only changes in my life were so small and gradual that it was difficult to notice when they had happened.
Until recently, there hadn’t been much that kept me going. I used to tell myself that if I wanted interesting stuff in my life, I’d probably have to put some actual effort in first. But it turned out that I was wrong because after a few weeks, Laila started working at Hugo’s.
She was the only thing that made working at a place like Hugo’s worth it. We didn’t even talk much. Every once in a while she’d roll her eyes at me when Greg gave us something to do, or if the phone rang, or if she burnt the side of a pizza and had to re-make it.
Stuff like that used to annoy me, but I started to look forward to it since it gave me a reason to talk to her, even if I couldn’t come up with anything good to say. The idea of talking to her always made me nervous. She had this way of looking at people that made you feel like she was looking through you. Like she was seeing you but also seeing the empty space that would be there when you left.
I guess the fact that she had a banshee was something I was afraid of, too.
Laila and I were pretty much the only employees at Hugo’s. There was also Rusty, who smoked outside in his car until I texted him that a delivery order was ready, and Greg, who was technically the manager but rarely did anything other than sit in the back office and watch the unchanging security camera footage.
The good of it all, though, was how slow it was. Every day I went in, the restaurant seemed seconds away from collapsing. There was some small promise of escape, even if the escape itself wasn’t going to be any easier. I’d have another, almost identical job, maybe making sandwiches, maybe sending emails, and Laila wouldn’t even be there. For one reason or another.
The only thing I knew for sure was that things were going to be the same for a few more hours, until after the sun set and we all went home.
I didn’t want to think about life beyond that.
As I pulled into the parking lot, I could see Greg dancing around in front of Hugo’s, wearing only a t-shirt and jeans. He rubbed warmth back into his arms in a cartoonish motion as I pulled my car in.
“Shit, man, you’re late,” he scolded when I walked up. He didn’t care about my punctuality as the manager, but instead as a person left out in the cold.
I checked the time on my phone. “I’m five minutes early.”
Greg nodded at the door and huffed, his breath fogging his glasses.
“If you’d stop losing your keys, maybe you wouldn’t get stuck in the cold anymore.” I unlocked the door and pushed it open in front of me, allowing Greg to rush past and into the heat. “It’s not even that bad today.”
If he heard me, he didn’t care. By the time I was rounding the corner of the counter, he was already disappearing through the door to the back office, where he kept a little space heater under the desk.
“Why don’t you just start wearing sweaters?” I called out to him as I turned the lights on.
“Too itchy,” he said, a hostile edge in his voice as if I was the one buying him all the itchy sweaters. “Makes my feet sweat.”
“Whatever,” I muttered, my voice covered by Greg’s space heater.
Unsurprisingly, no one else had shown up yet. Laila would be there any minute, and Rusty would probably take another hour. We couldn’t start taking orders until he got there, so there wasn’t much to do but wait. I pulled up a chair and counted the opening cash drawer to keep busy, hoping Laila would get here soon.
You could always hear her coming before you could see her. The low, wailing cry of her banshee put me on edge, and even though a few by seconds later I’d see the two of them walk around the corner, I would still look behind me, worried I had attracted one of my own.
Before Laila, I’d only ever seen banshees a handful of times before. Even just the look of them was hard to get used to. Only vaguely human-shaped, more like if a curtain in a haunted house came to life. Kind of like a woman, I guess. If you squint hard enough.
And of course, there was the screaming. That was the worst part.
I tried to make sure I always showed up to work early enough that I wouldn’t have to pass Laila’s banshee on the way in. Not that it would notice me, or be able to hurt me in any way. Just that it gave me goosebumps, which was kind of embarrassing.
But I didn’t mind it, really. Laila kept up with more than her fair share of the tasks at work, and I liked being around her.
Laila smiled and waved at me through the window, and I turned the music up a few notches in anticipation. It wouldn’t drown out the banshee’s screams entirely, but it would make them fade into the background noise, layered in between the music and the buzz of cars passing on the highway.
Laila paused at the door, making sure the banshee didn’t follow her in. That was the one condition Greg had when we hired her. We were desperate enough for more staff that they accepted someone with a banshee, but not desperate enough to allow it into the restaurant. It wouldn’t want to come inside, anyway. Besides Hugo’s being the last place anyone would want to step into, banshees tended to be more comfortable lingering outside of buildings.
During all of Laila’s shifts, it would slowly circle the building, occasionally pausing to watch her work, pressing its horrible, distorted face against the glass. I tried not to look at it, even though it couldn’t hurt me. They couldn’t even hurt the people that they followed, only serving as a constant reminder that death was looming over them, that at any second they could stop existing.
A messenger, not a danger. We all knew that, but it didn’t change the way being around one made a person feel—like the whole world was ending.
I wasn’t sure about Laila at first, but I admit it was mostly because of her banshee, rather than anything about her specifically. I got used to the thing faster than I thought would be possible, considering it was the first time I’d seen one of them up close.
Laila made impressions on people like that. She had this captivating air around her. It was hard to look away sometimes.
The first thing that Laila ever said to me was, “Do you think Hugo is even an Italian name?”
Honestly, I’d never thought about it before. It seemed Italian enough, but after she pointed it out, I wasn’t so sure. Had I ever met an Italian named Hugo? Had I ever met an Italian at all?
I shrugged in response, dumping a handful of finishing-touch pickles on top of the most popular pizza on the menu. “Do you think they have pizza like this in Italy?”
Laila laughed, the corners of her eyes scrunching up. “Guess not.”
The bell on the door rang as the first customer to show up in person that day walked hesitantly into the restaurant. By that point, the work day was already halfway over, and the strip of sky visible through the windows was turning shades of yellow and gold.
“Hey,” I addressed him, so caught off-guard by the presence of an actual person in Hugo’s that I forgot the canned welcome phrase Greg drilled into me when I first started working.
The customer let the door fall shut behind them before making their way forward, looking between Laila and I with a tight smile, like at any second one of us was going to explode. If he had to guess, I bet he would have thought that it was me who had the banshee. Laila didn’t carry herself like any other almost-dead person I’d seen. She had physical presence. She remembered how to take up space.
I caught my reflection in the register screen: untucked shirt, scraggly hair along my jawline. When was the last time I had bothered to shave?
An outsider would see me as disposable. Dime a dozen, for people like me. If Hugo’s wasn’t already on the verge of closing, I’d probably work here my whole life, until my teeth started falling out and I forgot my name.
“What can I get for you?” Laila’s voice called out, clear and resonant like bells.
“Ah.” The man hesitated. “Just two cheese?”
“Two cheese?” Laila repeated to confirm. She brushed past me at the register.
“Maybe one with tomato slices and one with sausage?” He looked around like he wasn’t sure we had those toppings.
“Size?” Laila asked, tapping on the register.
“For sure.” More keyboard clicks. “17.89.”
The man slid a 20 across the counter, stepping back toward the door before Laila got a chance to open the cash drawer.
“Keep the change,” he said, managing a slight smile like it was very generous of him.
“We’ll bring it out when it’s ready.” Laila passed me the receipt, and I felt a little insulted that she didn’t think I’d be able to remember the order.
She was right, though.
I double checked the receipt before setting it aside and picking up a knife. Typically we’d want to already have this stuff prepped, but we got so few orders that it was more time-effective to cut ingredients after orders were placed.
Laila settled in place next to me, spreading out dough into a rough circle, then adding sauce and handfuls of cheese.
The knife was so dull that I had to saw through each little slice of tomato. The owner didn’t care enough about how quickly we worked to buy us a new knife or sharpening block. One of a million signs no one trusted this place to stay open much longer.
Using the edge of the knife, I scraped the fresh tomato slices across the counter to make them easier for Laila to grab.
I cleaned the tomato juice off on my white apron, ignoring the pale red stains it left, then started cutting up sausage. Laila glanced over at me, then looked away quickly, keeping busy by making sure the cheese was evenly spread across the surface of both pizzas even though it looked fine already.
I gave her a quick smile before turning my attention back to cutting up the sausages. The best way to cut with a knife like that was to make a small puncture with the tip of it, then saw through there. It was a whole process, and felt like it took much longer than it really did.
When I went to cut, the sausage kept sliding around on the cutting board, the leftover tomato juice blending with the meat grease making it difficult to hold in place.
“Ah, shit,” I muttered, shaking my hand out.
“Here, let me see,” Laila grabbed my hand and pulled it close, taking in the small line through my fingertip and the drop of blood that was forming.
“It’s not that bad, really,” I said, but didn’t pull away. “Just need to cover it now.”
Laila didn’t look up at me, fixated on the blood. She blinked slowly, like she was trying to remember what she was doing.
“Sorry, yeah.” She dropped my hand and took a quick step away.
I left to get the first aid kit from the office. Greg looked up at me and nodded when I came in, but didn’t say anything. He knew that if he acknowledged me going for the first aid kit, he’d probably have to get involved, so he turned back to the monitors instead.
Laila was still standing where I had left her, but had turned to the side and was absently wiping non-existent crumbs off the counter.
“You okay?” she asked, seeming genuinely concerned even though it had only been a small cut.
Maybe that was the first time I had completely forgotten about Laila’s impending death, and could only see her: pale blonde hair, deep brown eyes, and long, fragile limbs. She was actually really pretty. In an abstract way.
Her banshee screamed, having circled back around to the front of the restaurant, where we would hear it best through the wide glass windows.
In a moment of weakness, I asked, “How long have you had that thing?”
“Do you know how you’re gonna die?” Laila didn’t miss a beat. She probably got that kind of question a lot, one that dances around what the person really wants to know—how much longer does she have left.
“But you assumed that I knew how I was going to die?”
“What, is it that obvious?” Laila laughed and bumped her shoulder against mine, dissolving the tension.
I let out the breath I didn’t realize I had been holding. “So, you don’t know, then?”
“No. It’ll happen when it happens.” Laila turned away, squinting out the window at the bright afternoon sun, slowly setting itself down along the tops of the trees across the street.
I’ve lived my life largely indifferent to the fact that one day, I was going to die. That’s kind of just what being alive is, an awareness of your impermanence. But at least someone like me got to keep pushing the thought back, when every day someone like Laila woke up thinking, is it today or tomorrow?
Laila took the two pizzas out of the oven, slipped them into boxes, and then brought them out to the man who was waiting outside.
Not much else happened after that. The most notable thing about the day was that Laila and I talked more than we ever had before because of that cut. We worked in silence for a few hours after that, but it was more of a companionable silence than it ever had been before. At least, that’s how I felt.
Laila pretty much ignored me as usual, and I stole glances at her as she worked, counting our tips on the receipts and setting timers for the pizzas, her cheeks shining from the heat of the ovens. When the sun began to set, I admired the way the yellow then orange then pink light illuminated her features.
It looked like she was glowing.
My thoughts were still lingering on the moment that Laila had touched my hand after I’d accidentally cut it when the clock turned to ten. Greg rushed out the door, turning the sign in the door from “open” to “closed” on his way out. When Rusty saw Greg leave, he came back inside the restaurant to clock out before getting back into his car and driving home.
Laila walked out from behind the counter, headed to lock the front door so no one could come in while we were closing up. Her banshee was coming back around the building, and shadowed her footsteps on the other side of the wall. By the time Laila got to the door, the thing was standing right in front of her. She reached out for the lock, and the banshee let out a high-pitched wail, the loudest I’d heard from it before, and something outside popped and shattered.
The parking lot around the restaurant was thrown into darkness.
Laila flinched, but recovered quickly. She turned the lock and took a few steps away from the door. She looked at me with her mouth open, too startled to form words.
“Ah, shit,” I said, running my hand through my hair in a weak effort to hide my shaking. “I think the sound made the light explode.” I was sure that much was obvious, but I didn’t know what else to say.
The banshee drifted away, as if nothing had happened. It almost disappeared in the darkness outside, but I could still see the fluttering of shadows around its form catch the light coming from inside the restaurant.
I forced a laugh, hoping it would calm some of our nerves. “Bet they’re not going to bother fixing that,” I said, nodding in the direction of the parking lot.
“I’m really sorry,” Laila said, her voice wavering like she might start crying.
“No, it’s okay. Not like you can control the thing, right?”
Laila shook her head and frowned, unable to meet my eyes. I’d never seen her without her usual composure before. She was always so careful and deliberate with her movements, but after her banshee’s abnormal scream, she looked even more scared than I was.
Without any consistent form of light outside, the windows were pure black. I could barely see the sidewalk outside the glass front door, let alone the entire expanse of the parking lot. It gave the effect of being transported into a black hole, like it was only us inside the restaurant, and nothing else existed in the universe outside that door.
“Well, better get cleaning,” I said, reaching behind me and tossing Laila a rag. I hoped it would give us both a distraction from the darkness, or at least get us closer to getting out of there and to the relative safety of our homes.
Laila hummed nervously as she disinfected the surface of the tables and stacked the chairs. I watched her from the oven, scraping out petrified cheese and bread crumbs. The banshee watched her, too, hovering around the door instead of circling the building. Like it knew that she was supposed to be leaving soon.
“You can go home, if you want.” It wasn’t that I wanted her to leave. I wanted the opposite of that. But I got the feeling that her banshee was watching me through the window, even though it had never seemed to notice anyone but Laila before. And there was always the chance that the next time it screamed, some of the lights inside the restaurant could go out.
She glanced out at the opaque glass, then shook her head. “Not like I have anywhere better to be.”
I kept cleaning, turning her words over in my mind. I guess I’d always assumed that her life outside of Hugo’s was interesting, unlike mine. The idea of Laila going home and watching whatever was on the TV until she passed out, like I did, seemed unlikely. She’d never said much about herself, and I didn’t even know what part of town she lived in or what she did on her few days off.
By ignoring about half the tasks I usually did and piling the trash by the back door instead of taking it out, I finished cleaning in record time. Greg would give me shit for it tomorrow, but I wasn’t thinking that far ahead. In a few minutes, we had marked down our closing times and were headed out.
While I walked through the parking lot, I kept my eyes focused on my car. I thought that every shift in the breeze was Laila’s banshee getting closer. The thing had to be somewhere close, but I couldn’t hear it.
It seemed like Laila was doing something similar, walking with her head down and shoulders hunched. But it wasn’t like she could avoid her own banshee.
I thought about her having to walk home alone, after dark, with that thing following her around. If I was her, I don’t know if I would have been brave enough for that. Something so simple that she had to do every time she came in to work would have completely broken me. Probably that said more about me than it did about her.
“Hey.” I turned around slowly, jiggling my car keys in my hand. “Do you need a ride home?” I told myself I was offering to be considerate, but really it was curiosity.
Laila glanced over her shoulder, then back at me, raising an eyebrow. The question took her by surprise—if I really wanted to give her a ride, I would have started offering weeks ago. It wasn’t like I’d never thought about it before, but more time with Laila also meant more time with her banshee.
The offer hung between us in the air, and I immediately regretted saying anything. It wasn’t just the thought of the banshee following my car that made me so nervous. What was I supposed to say to Laila? What would she think of me? My eye twitched, but it was so subtle I doubted she would notice, especially through the almost complete darkness of the parking lot.
“Sure,” Laila said, shrugging. I couldn’t tell if she was accepting my offer just to be polite, or if she really was grateful. The most hopeful part of myself thought that maybe she was curious about me, too.
I kept walking to my car, not waiting for her to catch up. If I couldn’t drive away and leave the banshee behind entirely, at the very least I could make it to my car before it was close enough to be visible through the dark. My instinct was to run, but I made my feet take what I thought were measured, regular-length steps. Keeping it casual. I wasn’t afraid of the banshee at all. Right, convincing.
All through this, I could hear it crying softly. Like it was recovering from that abnormal scream that had broken the light in the parking lot. Gathering up its energy for the walk home. There was no way I was going to give the banshee a ride, too.
I got into my car, slamming the door behind me and turning my keys in the ignition. Laila wasn’t too far away, and I realized that I probably should have opened her door for her. Or would that have been weird? In the time it took for me to think about this, she had already opened it herself and was sliding into the passenger seat.
For once, I counted myself lucky that my car’s old engine ran so loudly. I patted the dashboard like a proud father. “Can’t drive this thing past golf courses. Could get a ticket for the noise.”
When Laila shut the door behind her, the engine sound faded away. I could feel the silence between us like a physical weight.
The presence of this girl in my car felt significant. Like maybe it meant something was changing in my life. A sign that tomorrow might not be an exact repeat of today and the day before.
We pulled out of the parking lot, and I glanced up at Hugo’s through the rearview mirror. Laila’s banshee was standing at the edge of the curb, its shadowed figure barely visible in the darkness. If I hadn’t known where to look, I probably wouldn’t have seen it.
I kept a close eye on it as I turned out onto the empty highway, but it didn’t move an inch. The banshee looked like it was confused, like it was being abandoned. I almost felt bad for the thing, before I remembered that they probably didn’t have internal thought. And even if they did, they weren’t the sort of creatures you could feel bad for.
“So,” I said, looking in her direction but not at her. “Where to?”
“I’m past the east side of town, a few minutes after the water tower but before the church.”
We drove in silence. My palms grew sweaty on the wheel, and I was afraid that Laila would notice. The only time that Laila spoke was to give me directions, but I pretty much already knew where we were going.
The water tower was only five minutes away from Hugo’s, and the rest of the drive was straight down a country road. Out the right window was a mass of trees, and out the left window was an empty field.
“Turn here,” Laila said, pointing into the trees.
I almost didn’t see the turn, and had to do a little loop on the road to get back to the driveway. From there, I could see a house in the middle of a clearing, perched on top of a small hill.
It really wasn’t that late yet, not even midnight, but there was only one light on in an upstairs room. The square window illuminated a small portion of the house, light leaking out through white lace curtains. I rolled the car to a stop, far enough away that I wouldn’t wake anyone up with the engine sounds. If I wasn’t afraid I wouldn’t be able to get my car to start again, I would have turned it off while Laila got out.
I kept my hand on the gear shift, thinking that Laila was about to get out, but she stayed put. I might have thought she didn’t know we were there, if she hadn’t directed me into the driveway.
One of the lace curtains swished in a window, drawing my attention. The shadow of a person hovered for a moment, and I could just barely make out the detail of a hand parting the curtains before Laila spoke.
“You got any CDs in here?” Laila asked, reaching for the glove compartment where I did not, in fact, have any CDs.
“This is your house, right?” I looked back at the window, but the shadow was gone. She snapped the glove compartment closed and sat upright.
“Yeah.” Laila turned her head toward the house but kept her eyes on me.
“Oh…” I trailed off, not knowing what to say. If she didn’t want to get out, I wasn’t going to make her.
“Every time I come home, it’s like they didn’t expect me to make it back.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, even though it was pretty obvious.
Laila shrugged. “I think they just want to be able to grieve.”
There really wasn’t anything I was going to be able to say to that. All I wanted was to be able to make her forget about everything outside the car. It could be just the two of us, as the entire world. But I didn’t know how.
“So, what now?” I asked, looking at her through the reflection in the rearview mirror.
“Would you … want to come inside with me?” she asked.
My breath caught in my throat, making an unintentional sound of surprise.
“Never mind,” she said before I could form a response. “That was a bad idea.”
“No, it’s fine, it’s—”
“Forget I said anything.”
“Yeah, I mean, I would come inside—”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“—but I’m afraid my car wouldn’t start again, and then I’d be…”
“Trapped here?” There wasn’t any malice in her voice, only recognition.
“If you want to put it like that, then yeah.” I shrugged, took my hand off the gearshift and putting it on the steering wheel, then worried that made it look like I was too eager to leave, so I put it back on the gearshift, which really wasn’t any better but at that point I’d become too conscious of my own body so I forced myself to stop moving.
Laila watched me carefully, analyzing. I gave her a smile that she didn’t return.
“Is there somewhere else?” I asked, thinking maybe I could use this as an excuse to invite her over to my place.
She thought about it for a moment, and in that fragment of time I remembered how messy my house was, how I hadn’t done laundry all month and couldn’t remember the last time I vacuumed, and usually I don’t even use dish soap I just rinse them and kind of scrub the crusted food off with my fingernails.
“We could just drive for a bit more, if that’s okay?” she said finally.
“Yeah, yeah.” I tried not to let my relief show.
A flicker of fabric passed the back of the car, and I knew that the two of us weren’t alone anymore before I heard the banshee’s crying.
My mouth turned dry as I put the car in reverse, heading back down the driveway, getting closer to the thing and then blissfully further away again.
The gas tank was low. Hot air blowing through the vents made the car smell like burnt plastic. The engine sputtered but didn’t give out. If I believed in any god enough to pray to it, I would have then.
Laila’s pale hair glowed silver in the faint light as we pulled back onto the highway. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
“Hey, do you think—”
“Turn here,” Laila instructed, cutting me off. She pointed to a dirt road on our right that didn’t look official in any capacity.
“Why? What’s over there?” I pulled the car over to the shoulder of the road and pushed down on my turn signal even though we were the only car around. My headlights illuminated a stop sign where the road met the highway that I hadn’t noticed before, giving me at least a little bit of comfort that this was somewhere cars were meant to be.
“Can this thing go any faster?” Laila asked. She tossed her hair and bit her lip, and I didn’t even care that she interrupted me.
“Uh, sure.” I pressed the gas down a hair more, taking it from 50 to 52, still below the speed limit.
“Do you ever think about how it doesn’t feel like you’re moving after a while? Like, I’d have no idea how fast we’re driving if I couldn’t look over and check.”
“Yeah, I mean, I think it’s about momentum,” I said.
“For sure, it’s momentum. But like, beyond that. We’re already going hundreds of miles an hour around the sun, and I don’t even know which direction we’re spinning.”
I kept my eyes on the road, watching neon-yellow paint lines flash on the pavement, disappearing under my car and into the darkness.
She glanced in the rearview mirror, then looked at me. “You have to go faster.”
“Shit, Laila, what are we running away from?” I let out a nervous laugh, my breath forming clouds in the air between us, backlit from the flashing check tires light on my dashboard.
“Not away. Toward. I think we’re going along with the spin of the earth. I think I can feel it.”
I took my foot off the gas, and the car slowed down so softly it was barely noticeable, but I was sure that she knew.
“There’s nothing ahead of us anymore,” I said, gripping the wheel to turn.
Laila rested her hand on top of mine, running her fingertips along my wrists before slipping her fingers between mine and gently holding them to the wheel. I still could have turned, if I really wanted to. She wasn’t strong enough to stop me, but I didn’t want to try, didn’t want to know how much intent was behind her touch. The car continued to crawl forward, quickly losing momentum.
“Laila, the road’s finished.” I glanced up ahead, where the road we were on intersected with the highway in a T-shape.
The rusted guardrail would be enough to stop us from flying off the dead-end, even if I didn’t press on the brakes. I was almost positive of it. But with the run-down state of my car, I couldn’t really be sure of anything. The only real way to get out of this without any scratches, or worse, was to make a sharp turn.
“Almost like you want me to kill you.” I tried to laugh but the sound got caught in my throat.
I let the car creep closer, testing the will of the wheels, or Laila’s touch, or maybe my own. I glanced at the crumbling, rusted metal. It would probably be strong enough. As long as I kept my foot off the gas. As long as we kept slowing down.
I couldn’t see past the guardrail, almost like there was nothing after the edge of the road. Like the whole world dropped off the side.
My foot hovered over the gas pedal. How would it feel to fall into the unknown?
“Do you hear that?” Laila whispered, her fingernails digging into the wheel.
“Hear what?” I asked.
Before Laila had a chance to reply, the guttural moans of Laila’s banshee drifted through the dark, steadily growing louder until it covered the sound of the car’s tires flinging loose gravel off the road.
I watched it approach through the rearview mirror, too nervous to take my eyes off the road ahead completely. Caught up in the moment, I’d almost forgotten about the thing. Laila’s ever-present shadow.
“What do you think would happen if it stopped?”
“I don’t know. Probably nothing?” I’d never heard of someone being able to lose their banshee before. I couldn’t even imagine Laila without hers.
“No, you don’t get it.” The way she said it was like a verbal equivalent of flicking an ant off your lap.
“What don’t I get?”
“The earth. If the whole planet stopped.”
“Oh. I dunno.” I tried not to let my disappointment show. “I guess we’d all die, then.”
Laila rolled down her window and leaned out of the car. I took one hand off the wheel and held it out in the space between us, worried that she was going to fall out of the car but too nervous to hold onto her arm.
“Why are you still crying?” Laila screamed at the banshee, the cold night air making her eyes water. “What could you possibly be so fucking sad about?”
For a second, I thought I saw the banshee falter. I thought it might have slowed down or flinched, that maybe it actually heard and understood what Laila was yelling. That maybe it actually cared.
But the earth kept spinning the car toward the guardrail, and the banshee approached with its swirling-silk edges and open mouth, and Laila leaned further into the night.
Lucy would like for you to spend more time talking to ghosts.