by Clarissa G., Age 13 , Grade 8
The gravel road was quiet, absent of anything “loud,” as Livia’s little brother liked to call it. Her surroundings were empty of life as their rundown truck bumped along, and each pebble grated like a saw on a plank beneath them. Galaxies speckled shadowed blue, and the horizon ahead etched itself into twilight, blanketed in an odd, peripheral tunnel of trees that’s darkness was only penetrated by the wholesome moon. Usually, the twenty year old Asian American would have heard in the distance the comforting squawk of cars and the continuous murmur of people below, but at that moment, far from the city she was raised in, the only sounds were the small ones that she’d never quite noticed before. The rattling of chains in the trunk, a clinking like keys against her dad’s toolbelt. Her boyfriend, Terrin, shifting in the driver’s seat, as he fiddled with his ink colored locks, tapping a familiar tune on the wheel. And the most stifling of all the details she never cared to hear, the silence, hanging over like a broken promise accompanied by the droning and repetitive mother’s “sorry” in the engine.
Livia found it hysterical, actually, like being trapped on a lopsided scale, one side the deafening “loud” she was used to, until Fate decided to tilt the scale violently two decades into Livia’s life. Her thoughts summoned another, of her best friend Kai jumping onto a seesaw in fifth grade, and abruptly, the college student barked out a burst of laughter.
It was as if a switch had flipped on in the vehicle, and Terrin’s benign hazel eyes snapped to attention. He turned to her, looking a lot less drugged with sleeping pills, and sheepishly, Livia found herself rubbing the back of her neck, picking at the stubs of hairs.
“Livia.” He said, fidgeting hands loosening on the steering wheel. Terrin’s voice was always melodic, soft like a boulder polished by a steady stream, but at that moment, it was as if he’d screamed at the top of his lungs on a stage that was dominated by silence. A smile had formed on his face, a lopsided grin showing deep dimples on a freckled landscape, and her coffee eyes scanned smooth features until they’d traversed to his mischievous gaze.
“The lonely road isn’t driving the city kid insane, is it?” He teased. “I’d rather not suit up with bat ears gargling pebbles cause the gorgeous Harley Quinn broke out of Arkham.”
Livia snorted, and adjusted her ponytail, slipping into their always dorky banter. “I don’t know, Terrin. . . Maybe you should concentrate on driving the batmobile first. You know, before your crash it.”
There was a pause before Terrin affectionately shook his head. “You’re amazing, Liv. You know that?” he muttered, and Livia’s eyebrow cocked like her mouth was a screwdriver, driving nails into her own walls.
“Maybe. So what?” She said sardonically, a scowl on her face as she tried to pretend that his words weren’t being soaked up like water into a sponge.
Terrin glanced at the road, before deftly, his right arm reached over a cluttered mess to switch the gear of the car to a faded P outlined in white. The truck skidded to a stop. “So, Livia…” He tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear before she could respond. “I love you for it.”
Like the hit of a hammer, the sound seemed to penetrate any of her previous joy. A part of her stiffened, like an alluring danger was biting at the edge of her skin, forming goosebumps as it trailed up to lash at her head. Pounding. Her head was pounding now, and a frozen hand had embraced the atmosphere, clenched tightly on her temple, fingers suavely entering through the cracks in the windowsill. Terrin chuckled nervously, sweat beading on his forehead as his eyes trailed out the window. Livia noticed a chill, their breaths fanning out in clouds of grey where the air had turned bitter.
“Probably our imagination, Liv. Maybe we’re both going a little cra-”
This time, it was closer, and Livia somehow felt odd. The moon had seemed to flatten against the trees, and Terrin seemed smaller, like the forest had sprouted into an encircling cage wrapping them in icicles. Louder, it was, a beat of a drum against their car. The chains in the trunk rattled, the frame of their truck moaning. Terrin exchanged a glance with her, scrutinized the rear view mirror. “What the. . .”
A silhouette appeared in front of their car, waving frantically.
“Holy.” Terrin started, bumping his head on the door frame. He fumbled with the keys in the ignition, changed his mind and unlocked the door, stumbling out to greet the shadow on the road. Livia could see that the figure clearer now, a he, with dark hair plastered against his forehead. For a moment, a creeping sensation tapped at her foot, urging her to run as he turned to face her, and she blinked and shook her head. Once she’d opened her eyes, the odd trepidation had fallen still as the backseat door creaked open.
“Oh, thank the devil. . .” The man was rambling as Terrin headed to the front of the truck. Livia felt a spike of ice at his wheezing breath. “I was- Who’s this? Are you that awfully kind young man’s wife? Livia, was it? Such a pretty name. . .”
The man’s rasping voice continued on before she could reply, punctuated by each wheezing breath. Livia was still trying to answer when the door opened and Terrin scooted in. The man’s stumbling speech halted like a bubbling stream blocked by a dam.
“Liv,” Terrain said as he sat down, turning the key and awakening the engine. “This is Mr. Sune. Mr. Sune, this is my girlfriend, Livia.”
The man smiled, a snarling, twisting tilt to his lips like a wolf had ripped a gash on his gaunt features. “Yes, yes. I remember, Terrin. You told me her name earlier.”
Terrin blinked in confusion. Livia felt it get colder.