Discrete Entries: Don’t Fall Asleep, Part 1 (A short story in 2 parts)

“Don’t fall asleep,” she said, glancing up from her iPod. She wasn’t listening to music but instead was playing solitaire to distract herself from the windy road and its steep drop-off to the ocean fifty feet below.

“I won’t.”

“I’m serious. Don’t fall asleep.” Her voice snapped sharp, like a mother chastising her child.

“I won’t,” he repeated reflexively.

They had left Mendocino only twenty minutes before and were nearing the Navarro River Bridge. It was his favorite part of the California coast. The road, which had become closed in by tight corners and ancient redwood trees, would suddenly open up. From near the top of the ridge, there was a view across the river. Nestled among the trees near the river was a building. The view only lasted for the time it took to drive down to the bridge, but Jack would imagine that he lived there alone, far from the rest of civilization.

The house actually belonged to the State Park system and it had been gutted twenty years before. Now it was not much more than a roof and walls almost ready to return to the earth. No one had lived in the house for over thirty years and no one ever would again. It would eventually be washed away when the river rose over its banks in two winters.

Jessica said, “I read a news story on Friday about three bicyclists.”

“Ah, okay.”

“Shut up. I wasn’t finished,” she scolded him again. “They were like triathlon athletes—“

An illustration by Aubrey Beardsley from page 9 of "Salome: A Tragedy in One Act" by Oscar Wilde, 1904

An illustration by Aubrey Beardsley from page 9 of “Salome: A Tragedy in One Act” by Oscar Wilde, 1904

“Triathletes.” Interjecting useless facts was his passive-aggressive way of responding to her scolds.

“What?”

“A triathlon athlete is a triathlete.”

“Whatever. Anyway, they, uh, got killed.” She paused to lick her lips.

A woman, her body nude and bloody, had been dumped in a ditch near where Jack grew up. When he told the story—which he did often when drinking—he embellished it by saying he had found the body. Sometimes he added that the Zodiac Killer’s first two victims had been found only one hundred feet away on the same day twenty years before.

He had actually seen only the woman’s arm and hair as she was lifted into the coroner’s van, but Rebecca knew how much the dead woman’s body still haunted him in the silent hours of the night.

She didn’t want to continue the story, but she always had to finish what she started—for better or worse. “The cyclists were hit head on by a car. The driver had fallen asleep.”

With almost childlike glee he said, “It’s like in that movie.”

“What?”

“That movie. You know. The one with the aliens and the farm. Mel Gibson was in it.”

“Yeah, sure.” She tried to end the conversation by dismissing him with a wave of her hand. It was the same gesture she used with her employees.

“You know. The one where the guy driving home falls asleep at the wheel. Miles and miles of empty dirt road, but it’s the instant that he’s passing a woman walking that he falls asleep and KAPOW.”

(Read part 2)

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