“I can’t take this anymore.”
“What exactly can’t you take, Sarah?” David shouted, holding the steering wheel. “It’s all because of you. We all revolve around you.”
“Stop talking. I want out, let me out.”
“You are not going anywhere!”
“Stop right now!”
“David, watch out!”
The first alarm went off at 06:30. By 07:30, when the second alarm went off, Sarah had dried her hair, put on fresh clothes and filled up most of her suitcase. All her possessions laid folded on the living room couch. Her soft hands snuggled each garment in its own space. Cosy cashmere next to wool, above - gentle silk. Sarah was a beautiful woman. A crown jewel. On that morning, she had devoted herself to making the trip as painless as possible. She folded David’s clothes. She made sandwiches for the road. All David had to do was get up and drive. The third alarm went off at 08:30. At 09:00 - Sarah’s phone rang.
“No, mother. We are going to be on time. Yes, mother, our luggage is ready. No, he is in the shower. Of course, why wouldn't he? No, do not cancel anything. Tell father he would love to. No, he prefers flan. He doesn’t drink coffee. You know this, mother. Yes. Yes. Yes. Right on time. Oh, there he is. He sends you his best. We have to go…if we want to skip traffic. Yes, me too.”
Sarah entered the bedroom and stood tall over David.
“Wake up. It’s past 09:00. We are going to be late, please.”
David rolled to the other side of the bed. His dry mouth croaked back at Sarah, who spoke in a firm but calm voice.
“I have been ready for an hour. I took care of everything. I got up at 06:30. What time did you get home last night? I didn’t hear you come in. You promised to get up on time. It’s past 09:00. David!”
David pressed his feet against the wooden floor and got up. He rustled to the bathroom and locked the door. Sarah watched him go, counting the seconds on her wristwatch. David glided out of the bathroom at around 09:30.
“Give me fifteen minutes,” he yelled out.
“Thirty at the least,” Sarah thought to herself.
“What time is it?” David asked.
At 10:00 David and Sarah met in the kitchen. David had uncovered a wrinkled t-shirt and a pair of jeans.
“Why did you put that on? You have fresh clothes next to the suitcase.”
“I want to save them for later, not ruin them now.”
“Pick something from the suitcase, it’s fine”.
“You look great. What did your mother say?”
“Nothing. My dad wants you to play tennis with him. Five o’clock, ok?”
“Sure. Are we playing doubles or singles?”
“Ask him, I don’t know.”
“Right, are the bags ready?”
“Put something on and close them, yes. I need to check if I forgot anything.”
Sarah checked the bedroom, the bathroom and the closet, where she took a small pause before going back out. David had taken the bags down to the car. Sarah browsed the living room, put her coat on, checked her make-up, entered the alarm code and locked the door. Outside, it was a hot spring day. David was loading the trunk of their new BMW.
“Yes, Sir-ah.” A nickname David used carelessly. He appeared from behind the car.
“You didn’t change.”
“I will change when we get there, no time to waste.”
Sarah entered the car without saying a word. David started the engine. The fuel alarm lit up.
“We don’t have fuel?” Sarah asked.
“We have enough for now, we can fill it up later.”
“So you know where to stop?”
“Sure, there are a ton of fuel stations on the way.” David took out his phone.
“Damn, I forgot to charge my phone. Give me yours”.
“No, thank you. You will listen to the radio. Let’s not run out of battery before we get there.”
David laughed under his nose.
“Whatever, let’s go.”
It was a three-hour drive to their final destination. It was her father’s sixtieth birthday and everyone was invited to the mountain villa. Lunch started at 13:00 sharp. It was 10:30 and they had no chance of arriving on time.
Traffic was a drag. Everyone was leaving town for the weekend.
“Switch the station,” David said while looking in the rearview mirror.
“Just a second, I can’t do it now.” Sarah was looking at her phone.
“Ok, where are we going? How can we get out of this? Helloooo, what are we doing?”
“How am I supposed to know? You are driving, figure it out.”
“You are the one with the phone. What are you looking at?”
“Follow the damn road, David. Stop wasting time.”
David felt his temperature rising. He looked away, turned left towards the highway and immediately regretted it. The line was so long it almost disappeared into the horizon.
“Seriously?” Sarah complained. “Why did you go from here?”
The fuel alarm informed - 35 miles to empty.
“We are stuck,” David said.
The city was behind them. David was driving well above the speed limit. Sarah’s heart was pumping as she counted each passing mile of fuel - 15, 14, 13 and down. They passed by a fuel station, but David did not slow down in time to pull over.
“Why didn’t you stop here?”
“Don’t worry. I am sure there is one right passed the hill.”
Sarah turned up the air conditioning.
“That burns fuel, too. You know that, right?” David added.
Sarah felt like a caged animal. When the fuel meter hit the 9-mile mark, a small orange fuel station appeared on the right. David did his best to hide his relief, but Sarah felt his fear.
“See, I knew there was one right here.”
They stopped next to one of the two fuel pumps.
“You want something?” David asked.
“No, I am staying here. I will have a sandwich.”
David looked around for someone to fill up the car. Sarah shook her head. He had to do it himself. A few gallons later, a man in an orange uniform appeared from behind the gas station. He moved like a dusty cement statue dragged over the tarmac. Oily black spots on his uniform, grey and purple spots on his skin. The closer he got, the more unconcerned he became. He cornered David against the fuel pump.
“Fill it up, ok?” David mumbled.
The man took the pump out of his hands and continued filling up the BMW. David noticed a few men standing by the entrance. Big men. Fat and strong. Leather jackets and sweatpants. They did not let him pass unnoticed.
“Hey, boy. Nice car. How many horses?”
“I really don’t know,” David coughed out.
“Is it yours?”
David was halfway inside the gas station when he answered, “Yes”. He bought chips, a can of Coke and paid for the fuel. The woman at the cash register accepted the payment begrudgingly. Once out, he ignored the leather men. No matter. They were focused on the stray dog sniffing around the BMW. David walked to the car - not too slow, nor too fast. The dog looked up and growled. Sarah was oblivious to all this.
“Go on now, go away, go,” David pleaded.
“Tell him, tell him,” one of the men shouted.
“I am, I am.”
“Well…,” the leather men laughed.
David unholstered the car key, stared at the dog’s eyes and fired away. The car alarm rang out in the vast green landscape. The dog became even more curious and so did Sarah. The alarm pointed her to the standoff and for the first time that day - she laughed. David fired one more time. The car alarm beeped again and the doors unlocked. Two shots, two misses. Sarah couldn’t stop laughing. The dog, in its sphinxian wisdom, found no reason to move, nor any danger in not doing so. Pressed against the horrible beast, David had forgotten about the cement man by the fuel pump. He stepped in out of pure boredom.
“Go away,” he said with a voice dry as paper.
The dog complied. The cement man stood still.
“Thank you very much.” David reached in his pocket for some spare change. “Here you go, thanks.” David crawled into the car.
“What was that?” Sarah asked through her grin.
“Let’s move.” David started the car and inched away.
“You bought chips, why did you buy chips? I made sandwiches, didn’t you hear me say I made sandwiches?”
“Please, let’s go.”
About fifteen minutes had passed.
“I’m sorry, mom. We almost ran out of fuel. Yes, terrible. He will play. If he is not too tired, he got home late last night. Who knows…at least an hour. I am sorry, tell dad we are very sorry. Where are we? David, do you even know where we are? Yes, I think I see the forest. Forget it, we have ruined everything. You should tell dad the tennis is off too. We will be too tired. Oh well, ok, we will see.”
“What the hell was that?” David asked. Sarah looked out the window.
“Go ahead and blow it all off. We are almost fucking there. Do you know how that makes me look?” David said.
“What did you want me to say? We are going to miss everything. I don’t want them to wait for us,” Sarah answered.
“Wait for us? For what? They can start their drinks and things, we will get there. What’s the big deal?”
“Nothing is a big deal for you, ever. Does someone have to die for you to care?
“There you go again. I didn’t say that. You know what I mean.”
“Nothing, you just say things, but they mean nothing to me.”
David was driving well above the speed limit. The green pastures spread for miles and miles. Ahead, the pointy tops of the pine forest were reaching for the sky on both sides of the road.
“I can’t take this anymore.”
“What exactly can’t you take, Sarah?” David shouted, holding the steering wheel. “It’s all because of you! We all revolve around you.”
“Stop talking. I want out, let me out!”
“You are not going anywhere!”
“Stop right now!”
“David, watch out!”
A lonely dog appeared from the pines. There was no time to avoid the blow. Their bodies rushed forward. The dog’s rib cage snapped against the front bumper. Seconds later, the car stopped.
“Sarah, Sarah, are you ok? Sarah?” She raised her head.“Sarah, say something, are you alright?”
Time stopped. The road laid empty under the big sun. No sound for miles. The BMW shined like a black bug in the narrow forest pass.
“Sarah, look at me.” David checked her for injuries. He slowly lifted her arms, looked at her face, ears, fingers and neck. “Does it hurt somewhere?”
It took a few minutes for Sarah to come to her senses. She answered in a scared, gentle voice, “Yes, yes”. Her eyes filled with tears, but she was not crying. Inside the car, David and Sarah were waking up from the crash. As the initial stress calmed down, pain began to emerge. David turned off the engine and felt a strong, dull pain in his right shoulder. Sarah took a deep breath and cringed from nose pain. There was no blood, no bones.
“We are going to be fine”, David said. “Don’t worry. My shoulder hurts a little, you are not bleeding, it’s ok. We are getting home soon.”
Sarah looked ahead. Seconds later she remembered, “The dog.” David turned around and saw its body laying on the tarmac.
“What should I do? Maybe we should go.”
“No, we can’t leave it like this.”
“We don’t have time for this. We should get home and see if you are ok.”
“I am fine, David. Help the poor thing.”
David took a beat. “Ok, I am going.” A scarlet trail led David to the dog, close behind the car. He kneeled. The dog’s body was twitching like a newborn in a pool of blood. David remained still for a while. Sarah opened the door. She was close when David said, “She is dead.”
“Is it a she? Poor thing. You killed her.” David shrugged.
“Yes, I killed her. Thank you very much. Thanks for the help. What now? We need to move her away from the road.”
“How do you suppose we do that?”
“Grab the tail, I’ll grab the head.”
“No way. I don’t want to touch it.”
“Sarah, please, grab the tail.”
“No, you do it.”
“My shoulder hurts, I can’t do this on my own. We will drag her to the pines and leave her there. Please, do this for me, ok?”
Sarah closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Her nose pain spiked up again.
“Ok, ok. Fine.”
They stretched the corpse from both sides. Sarah was pulling the tail while David was holding its head. His shoulder gave. The dog’s teeth hit the road.
“What happened? You ok?” Sarah asked.
“My shoulder. It hurts a lot. I don’t think I can go on like this. Let’s just drag her to the trees.”
They grabbed the dog by its feet. The blood trail turned towards the pines. They were sweating. The freshness of the spring morning had dried out. David and Sarah were far from the BMW. Their hands were all covered in blood.
“Here, do you think here is ok?” David asked.
“I think so. Maybe we should go now”, Sarah said. Suddenly her eyes froze. She pointed to the car and screamed. David turned around.
“No, no, stop.” Two men emerged from the forest. They got in the car and drove off. David sprinted behind them.
“Stop, stop, stop!”
He ran out of breath close to where the BMW had been. He looked back at Sarah. Her eyes were still fixed on the car. She fell to the ground and hid behind her trembling fingers. The car disappeared. David followed the blood trail back to her. He bowed down, gripped her hands and pulled them down.
“Don’t cry, darling. I love you so much. What the hell is happening? What a day.”
Sarah’s face was all dog blood and tears. The more David kept talking, the angrier she became.
“I can’t breathe. Step back. Step back.”
“Calm down. It will be fine.”
“No, nothing is fine, David. Nothing is fine. You are an idiot. Look at us. Someone stole our car, we killed a dog, I left all my things in the car. What are we going to do? Look at where we are. There’s no one here. What am I going to tell my mother, my father? This blood. I am covered in blood. What can you do?”
“I never meant for all this to happen. How is this my fault? Fine, fine. We are late. I came home late. I confess. You got me. I was late, and no, we were never going to be on time. God help me if we miss another boring lunch with your family. I am sick of you dragging me around all the time. I hit a fucking dog, here, it’s dead. They stole the car. And here you are, lost in the middle of nowhere with an idiot, fuck you too.”
“My phone is in the car, David. We can’t call anyone. Have you seen another car pass by? No. Who knows what time it is. How long have we been here?
“You want a phone? Here, look!” David took out his phone.
“But, you said it had no battery left. You didn’t charge it.”
“No, I still have some…see,” David turned the screen to Sarah.
“Ok, ok. Fine. Call my mother.”
“Um, what’s her number?”
“Seriously, you don’t have my mother’s number? It’s been five years.”
“Be serious, of course I don’t have your mother’s number.”
“Give me,” Sarah snatched the phone and turned around. David took a breath and looked the other way, hoping the car would miraculously return.
“Hello, mom, can you hear me? No, you need to pick us up. No, someone stole the car. I am sorry, please. I don’t know. David, where are we? No, we are close.”
“Just tell them to drive, it’s about twenty minutes away from the house, down the road.
”We are twenty minutes away, on the road, yes. Come quickly, alright?”
Sarah hung up and returned the phone.
“They are coming.”
The sun was still there, heating up the oily tarmac. They stood in the shadow, next to the dog. Birds started circling above them and small cracks started echoing from the forest.
“We should move,” David said. “Come on, leave it.”
“It’s a she.”
“Ok, leave her. We have done enough.”
David and Sarah walked up along the pine shade. A stream of blood ran down Sarah’s nose and glazed the tip of her tongue. She stopped.
“Let me see,” David said. The blood glued his thumb to her red lips.
“I am sorry…for what I said. I never mean to hurt you. Sometimes I…lose my mind around you.” Sarah raised her eyes.
“I know, I know. But get a hold of yourself. I cannot keep going like this.”
“I do love you, you know it. We will get through this. I mean, how much worse can it get?”
“Let’s wait for my parents here. I am getting dizzy.”
They sat down on the grass and leaned on each other. The blood on their clothes began to darken. It was a long silence.
Over the small hill, two cars appeared. In front - Sarah’s parents in a white SUV and behind them - the local police.
“There they are,” David said. He helped Sarah get up. They hugged as the cars pulled over. Sarah’s mom ran out.
“Sarah, darling, what have you done?”
“Don’t touch me. You will get blood all over yourself.”
“Don’t be stupid. We must get you to a hospital.”
“I am fine, no need, let’s go home, please.”
“Don’t be foolish. We will get you to Dr Stevens. All this blood. Are you hurt?
“Well, my nose hurts. We have been here for a while.”
“Of course, I will call the doctor right away.”
“Karen, she is fine. It’s best for all of us to just go home,” David said.
“David, please, let her go. I know what is best. Do you need to see Dr Stevens?”
“No, no. I am fine.”
“Go speak to George. The police are here.”
“Let’s all go. I don’t want us to separate,” Sarah said. They walked to the cars.
“Sarah, come here,” George hugged his daughter. “Karen, call Dr Stevens.”
“Well, George, happy birthday. I guess we screwed everything up.”
“We will speak later, David. The police are here to question you. Go now.”
The policeman was right behind the SUV. A tall, armed man with hunting sunglasses. David walked up to him.
“You must be David.”
“They appeared from the forest and took off,I couldn’t see their faces.”
“Have you been drinking?”
“Um, no, we woke up and drove straight here. About the two men…”
“Do you mind if you do a test?”
“Well, no, but…we are going to George’s birthday.”
“Sir, come with me .”
“I don’t want to leave Sarah.”
“I said, please, sir.”
David looked at Sarah and her parents. Karen was on the phone, George was questioning Sarah.
“Ok, whatever you say.” They walked to the police car.
“Who’s blood is this?”
“We hit a dog, that is why we stopped.”
“At what time exactly?”
“I don’t know, around 13:00.”
“Where is it now?”
“Next to the road. By the pines. We dragged it.”
“You shouldn’t have done that. This is a crime scene. David, when was the last time you consumed alcohol?”
“Last night, before I came home.”
“It must have been a good night.”
“David, do we need to run any more tests? Is there something else you need to tell me?”
“Look, we hit a dog, that’s all. Those men appeared from nowhere. Please, I need to go back to Sarah.”
“Not right now. Those men? How many were they?”
“I saw two.”
“And they came out of the trees?”
“Where were you?”
“By the dog, we were in the shade, it was too hot. Can I talk to Sarah now?”
“How fast were you going?”
“How fast? I don’t remember.”
“Is it dead?”
“Yes, yes, it is.”
“Was it dead when you got out of the car?”
“Yes, yes, it was. Let me go see her for a second.”
“A big dog can survive a hit of up to forty miles per hour. This is a fifty-mile road. So, you tell me, how fast were you driving?
David stood silent.
“Right,” the policeman said, “You are coming with me.”
“Let me talk to Sarah first. I am sure George won’t mind.”
The policeman put a hand on his holster.
“You have one minute.”
They walked back to the SUV. David saw Karen get in the car. The policeman went straight to George. Sarah went to David.
“I have to go with them.”
“I don’t know, they have to question me, I guess. And I need to report the car stolen. You go home.”
“What about father? They know him.”
“I know. They don’t seem to care. I will call you when I’m done. Go home now.”
“We are going to see Dr Stevens first.”
“Right. Don’t let them drive you crazy. I will be back before you know it.”
“David, we should talk.”
“I know. It will only take an hour or two.”
“No, listen. Maybe you should go back home.”
“I told you, I will be back before you know it.”
“No, to the city. You don’t have to spend the weekend here.”
“What do you mean?” David looked at George and the policeman.
“My father is very upset. Someone will drive you back to the city.”
“Why are you doing this? I don’t want to leave you.”
“I know. This is for the best. Trust me.”
“Sarah, what is really going on?”
“Calm down. You don’t want to be here anyway. We will talk when I get back. It will be alright, David. Let’s get through the next few days.”
David checked Sarah’s eyes for a drop of doubt.
“Ok, as you wish.”
Sarah gave David a little kiss and walked back. As she got close to the SUV, she overheard the policeman talking to her father.
“The dog men, yes. We will see what we can do. He looks ok, given the circumstances.”
“Are you sure? Check everything.”
“Of course. We will get him back to you tonight.”
“Call me if necessary.”
“Have a good night, sir.”
The two cars circled back and drove off. They crossed the narrow pass together. The SUV was flying ahead. After a while, the police car turned right towards the station. David was in the backseat, looking at the rocky mountain tops. He got his phone out. The battery alarm sighed. On the screen - her mother’s number. He finally had it. And it was not going anywhere.
Please, read this:
This was Vasil Shkutov’s graduation short story, published here exactly as submitted.