Thursday, February 23, 2012

"Highway 90" by Heather Ross (Novelette)

Genre:  Young Adult Drama

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary:  For Brooke and Paige, life in a small border town is getting boring. The same faces cruising the boulevard and getting drunk in the desert just feel so high school until a trip to a Mexican nightclub changes the way they view life, love and freedom.


"Paige, did you see that?" I don't have to ask. Her face looks as shocked as my voice sounds.

"What should we do?" She lets her foot off the gas glancing at me. The thought of seeing a dead body makes my stomach sink. I've only seen two in my lifetime, my uncle, which I would have preferred not to see dead, but no one told me the funeral was open casket until I walked in the door of the mortuary. The other was on the side of the road, thrown from a van rolling across the center divider. My mom kept saying, "Don't look," from her seat in front of me, but the more she said it the more I felt like I had to see. I was only six, but I still remember the person, bloody limbs scraped raw and bleeding laying lifeless on the highway, eyes open just staring. I don't know if it was a man or woman, but I do know I didn't understand death as much as I understood pain. That looked painful and I didn't want to die if it meant pain.

"We should go back." I stare straight ahead unsure if the words really came from my mouth. I wait for Paige's response, but she's quiet. At this point, I won't protest if she keeps driving. She slows pulling to the side of the road then makes a u-turn. We drive in silence. My heart is beating hard and fast. I hope it's a figment, a joke or that someone else stopped, like the paramedics. All of my ideas disappear as our headlights spread over the lifeless figure. Paige makes another u-turn pulling up within twenty feet of the body, half the car still on the highway.

"What if this is some kind of joke?" Paige looks around like an army of guerrillas is waiting in the brush to jump us.
"Paige, do you see the blood? Who's gonna joke about that?" She looks over the steering wheel squinting her eyes as if looking for a ketchup packet nearby.

"Just stay in the car if you're so damn freaked out." I open my door. It's pitch black except for the headlights and a full moon. The desert's finally beginning to cool. I hesitate for a second hearing my dad, "Don't stop for strangers." Technically, this isn't a stranger. It's a dead person. Besides, what will he say when I tell him, "I drove past a person on the highway last night just layin' there all bloody and lifeless, but you said don't stop for strangers." I imagine he'd be more disappointed than if I'd stopped, but more than that, I'd be too disappointed in myself to tell.

I start toward the body. I'm not good with blood, even get queasy at the sight of my own, and the body is covered in it. Dark patches that look like dry paint surround the figure while bright red streaks ooze from wounds I can't see. The person is on their side facing away from me, probably the only reason I'm still standing. I look back at the car. I can't see Paige through the glare of the headlights, but I'm sure she's chewing her nails watching me. As I get closer I hear breathing. It reminds me of Darth Vader, raspy, strained, filled with fluid. A low groan follows. It scares me so much I almost pee myself. I can't just stand here watching someone die.

Buy this story on Amazon.  Check out Ross's other work on her website.

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