SECOND HONORABLE MENTION
The 2018 Screw Turn Flash Fiction Competition
BY CARIE JUETTNER
It’s Sunday morning, and I’m in the center lane of Mopac, driving with one hand and digging in my purse for lip balm with the other, thinking about how there’s no such thing as rush hour in Austin anymore, just a steady stream of hours and cars, when a silver Civic just like mine pulls in front of me.
It’s not often I see a twin of my eleven-year-old hybrid anymore. When I first bought it, they were everywhere. I remember once, a few weeks after I got the car, trying desperately to unlock it in the parking lot of HEB and cursing my fob for breaking. It wasn’t until I was fumbling with the key in the lock that I saw the baby seat in the back and realized it wasn’t mine. My car was one row over, flashing its lights in exasperation.
But here is a long lost sibling traveling the same road as me.
I gaze at the butt of the beat-up Civic and wonder what its story is. It has a dent in its rear bumper similar to the one my own hybrid sports from that ill-placed pole in the parking lot of that old bar on South First. Mario’s? Marco’s? I was so mad the night I backed into that pole. My friend Sally accused me of being drunk, but I wasn’t the tiniest bit tipsy. I was just a bad driver, which at the moment seemed worse. I went back a few months later and saw the sign they’d put up in the parking lot. It read, “There’s a pole behind you.” It made me feel better to know that I wasn’t alone.
Maria’s. The bar was called Maria’s.
I speed up a little, wanting to get a better look at my car’s twin. The closer I get to its back bumper, the more the dent looks familiar. I shiver and turn off the air conditioner. Maybe the driver used to go to Maria’s too. That would be a pretty big coincidence. Then again, enough people hit that pole to warrant a sign. At this range, I can see more of the car. It’s the same year as mine. It has the same dorky antenna and faux spoiler. And the same deep scratch down the center of the trunk.
What the hell? The Maria’s pole, maybe, but there’s no way the lady who owns this car got that scratch the same way I did. Only I am clumsy enough to accidentally key my own car while juggling an armload of books. But it’s there. It’s definitely there.
I reach to turn the AC down, but it’s already off. I drag my teeth over my bottom lip and feel how chapped it is. I reach into my purse again and this time find my peppermint lip balm. I flip the lid with my thumb and apply a thick layer. While I’m putting on a second coat, I notice the driver of the car ahead of me bring her hand to her mouth as if she’s doing the same. I drop the lip balm and take my foot off the gas. As my car slows and the distance between my Civic and its sister grows, I take deep breaths and try calm my suddenly racing heart.
I put on my blinker and move into the left lane. As I do, I look into the rearview mirror and realize the car behind me is changing lanes at the same moment. Shit! I wave an apology, but she’s waving too, so it must be okay. Then I see it. The car behind mine is another silver Civic.
I realize it’s been too long since I looked out the front window. I snap my eyes forward and see that the car in front of me has also changed lanes. The driver looks tense. She’s playing with her ponytail, wrapping her fingers around and around her long hair, then letting it go. Over and over again. I let go of my own hair and grip the wheel with both hands. The driver ahead of me does the same. I slow down and look back, trying to get a glimpse of the driver behind me, but she’s turned around. My sweaty palms slip on the steering wheel and I turn the AC up full blast, which makes the purple graduation tassel hanging from my rearview mirror dance.
The center lane is wide open. I move into it without signaling.
The other two Civics move in unison.
I swerve to the right lane, realize there’s a car there and jerk the wheel back to center.
My shadows do the same.
I step on the gas, trying to get around the dented car in front of me, but I can’t. She anticipates my every move, speeding up and zigzagging between lanes. One peek in the mirror tells me there are three of us playing this game. Soon we’re doing 80mph on a crowded highway, and I want to stop, but I don’t know how. I stare into the rearview mirror, willing the driver behind me to look at me, but she won’t stop staring into her own mirror, her own graduation tassel swaying in the breeze. I tear my eyes away just as the semi truck two cars ahead slams on its brakes. I scream and move my foot off the gas and lift my hand to press the horn to warn the driver in front of me to stop stop stop before it’s too late, but all I hear is the sound of a horn blasting behind me before everything goes black.
Carie Juettner is a teacher, poet, and short story author in Austin, Texas. Her work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Nature Futures, and Hello Horror, among other places. Carie was born on Halloween and has always had a passion for the weird, creepy, and unsettling. She invites you to read more of her work on her blog, Carie Juettner.