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Bump in the Night

"Could you please slow down?" Emma asked. The light from the dashboard console colored Mark's skin seasick and deepened the wrinkles around his eyes until they were more like scars. He didn't look anything like her Mark.

She turned away from him, to the woods rushing past the passenger window. The upper branches were too thick, too tangled, for light to penetrate, so the saplings on the forest floor never stood a chance; they'd petrified into grotesque deformities, withered arms forcing their way out of the grave.

Mark kept his eyes on the road. "Gotta stay ahead of the storm." The headlights couldn't keep pace. How could he see anything?

"We won't have to worry about the storm if you manage to kill us first."

He turned to face her. "Last I checked, I've been driving for aught twenty-"

By the time she saw it, it was too late to scream.

The right headlight died with the sharp snap of shattering glass. The countryside crept closer. Their vehicle tilted at an obscene angle, threatening to tip. Emma's fingers bored into the armrest's resistant leather. The seat belt bit into her sternum. She prayed: for their safety, for the safety of whatever they'd hit. Tires shrieked as they skidded sideways, trying to cling to the asphalt. Finally, mercifully, they came to a stop, her skull colliding with the indifferent window.

Emma swiveled in her seat. The engineers hadn't reached this sector of the reclamation project yet, so there were no lamps offering assistance as she squinted behind them, praying to make out some piece of inanimate debris, or even an injured-but-living victim limping away. But the blackness refused to be pierced. Between all the rain and the month-long stretches where the sun didn't bother to come up, it was like even God didn't want to see this place. She couldn't blame Him.

"You okay?" Mark asked.

Emma did her best to keep her voice and volume level. "My husband refuses to listen to anyone and almost got me killed. We just ran over...something, and we're probably about to freeze to death in an ice storm because of it. And on top of all that, I'm a million miles from everyone I love. What scenario can you possibly imagine where I'm 'okay'?"

Mark closed his eyes. His voice dropped to just above a whisper, his drawl forced its way to the surface belying his anger. "You're the one who pushed us out here."

She smelled the sugary note on his breath, mixed with alcohol's tang. She turned away before she spoke. "It was an opportunity. We had to jump on it to get you noticed."

"You wanted to get me away from Tania. Don't pretend it was anything else."

Emma didn't bother checking her volume any longer. "She was using you!"

"I never touched her. I-"

Emma continued over the interruption. "And sooner or later, you would have taken a few swigs from that flask and done something stupid, like you always do when you drink. Like tonight."

Mark's eyes snapped open and focused on her. Silently, he hurled the door open and invited the night in. Emma let her head sink into the seat back and then, with a groan, reached up to her throbbing forehead. Her fingers came away sticky. An oozing gash awaited in the mirror. Even without the injury, the woman who stared back at her, the one competing with tramps like Tania, wasn't half the woman who had married Mark.

The engine was still running and the dashboard bell chimed at Emma, relentless. She followed him outside.

The storm's front jostled the trees. The little petrified ones scraped against one another, like waves of corpse arms tearing at each other for the first taste. In the tail lights' crimson glow, she made out a fresh smear on the ground behind them, thicker than the enveloping woods, darker. Could blood even get that dark? There was no body and no amount of squinting was going to penetrate the shroud covering the road behind them.

They saw nothing. But somewhere from the watching blackness, a voice rumbled like Revelation's seven thunders. And Mark and Emma heard their victim growl.

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