The Highway

Emma Buoni

The interstate wasn’t meant to be so dark and lonely, even in the dead of night. 

Sickly orange lamps lit the way, and Mia’s brights were on. The sky was clear, and a full winter moon illuminated

her path, but it felt as though the darkness swallowed the light, an ever-hungry beast that was never satisfied, always hunting. 

Music played through the speakers of the car, relaxing and hopeful, but any comfort it offered seemed to be

swallowed up by the non-stop rattling of the mini cooper, protesting the high-speed demands of the open road. Mia didn’t allow it to stop-she was too close to home now.  

The music faded out, and for a moment, all she heard was the uncomfortable noises of her car, sounding strangely

like wheezing. 

The next song began, one with a loud intro filled with crashing cymbals and squealing guitar. It nearly covered up a

different noise, but not quite. 

Distinctly, there was a thump in the trunk. 

Mia’s blood ran cold, and she immediately reached out, muting the music to try and hear the noise again, but all

she heard was the metallic shaking of her poor car. She swallowed, trying to take a deep breath to stop her heart from pounding. She couldn’t afford to break down on the side of the road-not at this time of night. 

Not for the first time, she cursed herself for staying at her friend’s house so late. She hated driving in the dark, but

they had been insistent, and every time Mia had gotten up to leave, she found herself dragged back into another conversation. At least she hadn’t had anything to drink-the last thing she wanted was to call an Uber this late. 

Although, now, completely alone, she thought company might not be so bad. 

Traffic had been bad at first, making the already long trek home worse, and by the time she finally got home, there

would be barely any point in going to sleep. She never took the interstate, but tonight she had swerved onto it in an attempt to shorten her drive, if only slightly.  

The song ended with a terrific crash, and this time, in the empty orange night, there was no denying what she

heard. 

Thump

It wasn’t coming from the car. This time, she was able to determine that the sound had come from the interior of

the trunk, like a single but insistent knock. The imagery of someone knocking sent a chill down Mia’s spine, and she turned the music down, straining her ears and praying that she heard nothing else. 

Thump. Thump. Thump-thump. 

It was like an uneven heartbeat, unsure and erratic, but getting strong. Mia hazarded a panicked look in her

rearview mirror, but all she could see behind her was blackness, the road devoured by the night. She was certain that the road lamps were supposed to be stronger and white, not a rotten tangerine color.  

Thump, thump, thump-thump-thump. 

It was faster now, and Mia’s foot pressed harder on the gas as though she could outdrive a sound that was already in

her backseat. The car shook as though it were about to come apart piece by piece. The speedometer pushed seventy, eighty, ninety, and Mia had no idea what the speed limit was but she was sure she was going several miles over it. But she would have been relieved if a cop pulled her over; at least she wouldn’t be so horribly alone. 

The song was still playing, something about being watched, and the melody was far too peppy for the lyrics. Mia

swiped vaguely at the stereo, knocking the volume up by accident in the same moment she switched the station. Loud, harsh static blasted through the speakers, and Mia yelped before she could stop herself, frantically pressing random buttons to get the noise to stop. Her hand jerked on the wheel, and her tires shouted in protest and warning as she swerved. 

She slammed her foot on the brakes, and the tires squealed again. Her car skidded to a stop in the middle of the

interstate, and Mia turned the car off, panting and dizzy. 

The thumping was gone. 

She leaned her head against the steering wheel, trying to collect herself. There wasn’t anything in her trunk. There

couldn’t be, it was far too small. 

And all the same, she knew she had heard something. 

Still stopped in the middle of the road, she stepped out, her keys gripped so tightly between her knuckles that the

grooves scraped her own skin. She took a shaking breath, standing outside her door, listening to the night. 

She strained her ears for cars, for any signs of life near her, but all she could hear was the sound of her heartbeat in

her ears.  

Crouching low to the ground, she crept towards the rear of her car, telling herself that there was absolutely no way

that there was anything dangerous in her trunk. It was silly to get so worked up over nothing. These assurances did nothing to change how tightly she had her keys in her fists. 

Taking one final deep breath to scrape up some courage, she threw open the trunk of her car and tensed, ready to

attack whatever was surely about to leap out at her.  

But nothing did. 

Her suitcase from a trip a few weeks ago was sitting in the trunk, having broken loose from the netting she had

wrapped around it to keep it from moving around. With still shaking hands, Mia reached out and pushed one of the wheels of the suitcase. It hit the side of her trunk, making a thumping noise. 

A wave of relief came over Mia, so strong it made her legs shake. She took a deep breath and let it out, pinching the

bridge of her nose and rubbing her eyes. She reached to close the trunk and paused.  

Now that her panicked heartbeat wasn’t overpowering her senses anymore, she could hear other things. Distantly,

like an echo from another lifetime, she heard other cars. She heard the road lamps buzzing weakly, as if on their deathbed. 

But loudest of all, she heard raspy breathing behind her. 

Mia found she wasn’t alone anymore. 

Spring 2022