My hands grip the steering wheel, twisting this way and that to hide the tremors and squeezing until my knuckles show white bone through the skin. The car is a small white hatchback model from ten years back. It’s old and grey on the interior and entirely unfamiliar. Beside me sits Casey. Alia and a young man who I assume is her boyfriend—but he’s not Manny and Manny is her boyfriend? (I quite like Manny but he’s much too old for her.)—occupy the backseat.
It’s hard to say where we are exactly. The area vaguely resembles the northbound side of the Bradfield Highway, nearing the exit to Military Road. I don’t remember ever crossing the Bridge though. For some reason I can’t turn my head to look behind me; my eyes are stuck staring straight ahead and the image in the rear-view mirror is blurry and indistinct. Why is this such a secret?
A giggle comes from the backseat as Alia strokes the man’s cheek. They murmur to each other, unaware of any impending danger.
My companion seems panicked. The blood has drained from Casey’s face and her eyebrows are high on her forehead. She squishes her hands between the seat and her thighs, nervous.
We’re going so fast now the car smashes on the concrete barricade between lanes, pulling some of the metal sheeting off the side panels. It is flung from the car and crashes to the bitumen, bouncing briefly as we ricochet off the divider into a car on the other side. Still travelling fast but not fast—it doesn’t feel fast at all. (Where is that sucked into the back of the seat feeling?)
Pieces of the car break off and fall away as the vehicle rebounds of obstruction after obstruction in a perilous zigzag, speed steadily increasing until I’m sure we’re out of control now. (Where we ever in control?)
We ascend the exit ramp and are supposed to veer right. Instead we continue through another concrete barricade and plummet to the strange, caged floor of a wall-less warehouse or shed. My chest expands with the falling sensation and when we land I feel nothing. No impact. The only change is the absence of the sense of my stomach entering my throat through a straw. There is no thump or bang. Not one of us is injured. Images of bloody head wounds and broken bones and glass and steam and the heat of fire fill my head anyway.
Casey slams the passenger door and stalks away. The sound jolts me from my daze although I still don’t feel quite awake. (Awake? Am I asleep?) I spring out of the car, compelled to follow her. Her distress is palpable and catching.
“Are you okay?” I ask when I finally catch up to her. We are no longer in the strange empty factory and have somehow found ourselves on climbing the side of a grassy embankment. Yellow daisies wave thoughtlessly in the wind as I chase after her. I can’t help stepping on some and breaking their stems.
“Hey, Casey!” I call, reaching for her arm but when my fingertips graze the sleeve she yanks it away.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” she shouts, whirling around to face me. So many thoughts seem to cross her mind, all of them fuelled by fury and fear . I think she might yell at me again but instead a darkness passes over her.
“Leave me alone.”
For a moment I watch her go; already a figure in the distance hunched against a temperatureless wind. Remembering Alia, I rush off to find her. She’s a ways off to my left, following her companion up the embankment.
Shaking her hair away from her face to look at me, I see a smile on her lips but panic distorts expression and it becomes a mask.
“Where are you going?” Please don’t leave me alone.
Alia shrugs, the smile looks obscene, and gestures towards the boy- man- friend…He’s not Manny. I’m so confused.
Time passes in the space of nothingness.
I don’t know where I am but I’m running around and trying to figure out if it was all a dream.
I feel like I haven’t heard from them in days. I think I try to call them. I’m convinced it wasn’t real. I have no idea where that car came from or how we would have survived the ordeal.
I can’t find Casey anywhere and isn’t Alia in Canberra? That’s where she lives. Why were we even in the car?
Casey isn’t answering her phone, like she might be mad at me. Or at work or busy. But it feels like she’s avoiding me.
I log on to Facebook and I think I see evidence of the car accident in status updates.
Jolting upright, I gasp. The panic dies down as I feel the soft sheets and the weight of the duvet. Knot my fingers in them as I slow my breathing and rapid heart rate.
It was a dream.
I snatch up my phone to call Casey but it rings out. That’s ok. She was going to sleep when we last spoke. I dial Alia’s number and listen to the rings. She’s surprised to hear from me. The conversation is awkward but she’s my best friend and I needed to check she is ok.