Headlights

Photo by Nikos Papanagiotou

Renata took another sip of coffee and tried once more to find a different radio station she could pick up. To no avail. She watched the channels cycle through, pause a couple times for static, then continue, then inevitably return to Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” once more. I know, ‘tis the season Elvis, she muttered, But I really, really hate this song. It was some kind of stunt, this radio station playing it on repeat, something stupid to grab a couple headlines at best. And now Renata regretted more than anything in the world failing to sync music to her phone before she lost her signal out here, in the middle of nowhere South Carolina. But she worried about falling asleep at the wheel, and music and coffee were her best defense against it. So, sure, what the hell, one more hour of Blue Christmas it is.

Then, just as she felt herself nodding off, she caught her first glimpse of the headlights of an oncoming vehicle on the road about a hundred yards out. She hadn’t fully appreciated how desolate and empty it was out here this late at night until she’d been provided tangible evidence of another driver. And that was all the more reason to stay awake. She rolled the windows down and let the chill shake her back to fully alert. The wind snapping through the open windows accompanied Blue Christmas as she kept on, and she noticed, gradually, a very odd thing: Even as she advanced 50 miles per hour down the road, the headlights up ahead of her never appeared any closer. She chalked it up to an optical illusion for a few minutes, for as long as she could. But the further she drove, the harder it was to ignore. She sped up. 55, 60, 65, 70 miles per hour. But nothing changed. The headlights remained fixed in one place, and no matter how much she surpassed the speed limit, she couldn’t seem to meet the oncoming car.

Come on, she said aloud, the wind now drowning out Elvis Presley, what is this shit, and she sped faster and faster, trying to force the other car to meet her through sheer velocity, but the headlights stayed exactly where they were, at exactly the same distance they’d always been. Then it occurred to her. The only logical explanation. Some teens were screwing with her head, speeding in reverse down the road away from her. A totally insane and reckless thing to do, of course, but you know: teens. So she decelerated as quickly as she could, coming to a full stop in the middle of the road. She leaned forward and squinted, studying the headlights closely, expecting them to shrink before the other car realized she’d braked, and then tried to do the same. She could’ve attempted to convince herself she’d seen some difference, some movement. But she couldn’t.

Renata got out of her car. In the still, calm night she turned around slowly, taking everything in. Moonlit, sprawling fields on either side of the road. Only darkness behind her as far as she could see. The headlights up ahead, at precisely the same distance they’d been since she first saw them, despite how far and how fast she’d driven since. Is this real? She racked her brain for any kind of explanation. How could she not have passed this car by now.

Against her better judgement, she began walking up the road toward the headlights. Blue Christmas faded in the background until all she could hear were her footsteps and crickets in the fields. She kept walking and soon, much to her amazement, she realized she was actually gaining on the headlights. For the first time, she was finally approaching the other vehicle. She felt an urge to start running, but another part of her feared what she would find when she arrived.

As she approached the other car, she could hear its engine idling. Her heart raced as she squinted through the lights, trying to make out who was behind the wheel. But when she walked around to the driver’s door and approached the open window, she realized it was empty. And then Renata realized that she recognized this car. Because it was hers. She opened the door and sat down behind the wheel. She looked at the moon for a few seconds, put the car in drive, and headed down the road.

Renata took another sip of coffee and tried once more to find a different radio station she could pick up. She watched the channels cycle through, pause a couple times for static, then continue, then inevitably return to Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” once more. Renata hated this song, but she worried about falling asleep at the wheel, and music and coffee were her best defense against it. So, sure, what the hell, one more hour of Blue Christmas it is.

Then, just as she felt herself nodding off, she caught her first glimpse of the headlights of an oncoming vehicle on the road about a hundred yards out.