The whole car rattled and hummed around each bend until it crested a final hill and the asphalt gave way to blue; blue sky and gentle ocean waves stretched long and far across a hazy horizon. Bands of sunlight filtered through trees whose leaves were just turning, all green with tips dipped yellow, orange, red like they had been brushed with paint. Soft music trickled from the speakers, crackling through radio static and the thump of the car over bumps and divots in the road. Jane hummed along with it, always two notes ahead.
In the passenger seat, Nora blinked awake. That endless blue blinked back at her through the windshield as she stretched and yawned. The cat in her lap bristled, annoyed at the sudden disturbance, the movement it did not ask for. Nora set one hand on its head and scratched behind its ears, coaxing a gentle purr from the grumpy animal.
“Good morning,” Jane beamed. “Just in time. Get that map out.”
The road dipped on a long downhill. Jane released the gas and let the Jeep glide, the speedometer clicking down to 55, 50, 40 miles per hour as her daughter rummaged through the glove compartment. Crumpled receipts and coffee stained napkins tumbled into the floor until Nora fished out a faded, yellowed map.
“What road are we on?” she asked.
“Meadow Creek,” Jane said.
“Isn’t that the name of the park?”
“Bingo,” Jane said. “Welcome home.”
“Did we pass our turn?”
“We did not pass it.”
“Are you sure?” Nora asked. Her brow furrowed as she raised her head. The glistening waves of the water slipped behind treetops the farther they dropped. As they hit the bottom of the hell Jane stepped on the gas. The engine whirred and the old Jeep lurched forward. “What’s the name again?”
“Obnoxious Daughter Avenue,” Jane said dryly.
“Obstinate Mother Way,” Nora countered.
“The SATs are over,” Jane said. “Colloquial language, please.”
“Colloquial language for colloquial is common.”
“Hey, navigator, are you reading the map or not?”
Nora scanned the map, glanced up, scanned the map again. Her cat found interest in the corner of the paper, lazily swatting at it as Nora read. “Oh,” she said, and she folded the map along its center crease. “We didn’t pass it.”
“Ha!” Jane let go of the wheel to drive her fists into the air in triumph.
“We almost passed it,” Nora said as Jane told her to, “Trust the mama.”
“How almost?” Jane asked.
“Like, turn now almost,” Nora said, pointing to the left. Jane grabbed the wheel and swung it hard. The whole vehicle rattled and shook and Jane had to slam on the breaks to steady it. The cat in Nora’s lap yowled, the dark hair along its spine standing on end. Nora dropped the map to grab him. She hugged her cat to her chest until the Jeep eased back into motion.
“Sorry,” Nora and Jane said at the same time. Jane’s eyes flicked to the rear view as she drove. Nora did the same, and then twisted around in her seat. She strained to see past the towers of boxes crammed into the backseat and out the back windshield.
“They’re still behind us,” Nora said, righting herself.
“Good,” said Jane. “We should be coming up on the house soon.”
“Is that it?” Nora asked.
As concrete gave way to dirt and the Jeep bounced over the uneven, unpaved road, a small colonial crept into view. It was set back from the road with thick copses of trees on either side. Low cut shrubs lined the dirt walkaway to the front porch, which looked like it was meant to be white but hadn’t been touched up in decades. The house was unassuming, with brown shingles and a chimney jutting out one side. There was a single hanging basket dangling above the porch rail, the flowers inside already chilled by the impending autumn.
“That’s it,” Jane said.
EXIT GHOST WILL BE AVAILABLE ON AMAZON AND KINDLE ON DECEMBER 30, 2017.