Fiction: In a Field Beneath the Stars
It's day eight, which means we're almost 1/3rd done with 25 Christmas Eves. Today's piece is titled "In a Field Beneath the Stars." Hope you guys like it.
By: Erin L. Snyder
Susan was sitting in the passenger seat, just staring through the windshield. She was wearing headphones, but her CD player was almost out of batteries. She could hear the sound wavering, dying. Dead. She pulled them off her head and eyed the radio.
“How you holding up?” Tina asked from behind the wheel. She’d interpreted her sister’s action as a sign she wanted to talk.
“Huh? Oh, fine.” She lied with all the subtlety a fourteen year-old girl was capable of.
“I’m not in love with this situation, either. But this is the way it is, so we might as well make the best of it.”
Susan sighed audibly and turned to look out her side window. Trees and marshes drifted by. She wished her parents could have been there, even though she’d just be fighting with them, too. She wouldn’t have been any less angry, but she’d have felt better.
“Did you bring anything to eat?” Susan asked.
“Beside the cooler that’s right beside you?”
“Yeah, beside the stupid apples.”
Now it was Tina’s turn to sigh. “I think there’s some candy in the glove compartment.”
“Mom usually brings sandwiches,” Susan said. The family was supposed to be doing this together, but her parents had gone on a trip to visit her grandmother. Their flight had been cancelled due to a storm. The airline could have rescheduled them for yesterday, but they couldn’t risk traveling this close, so they decided to wait until the twenty eighth. That meant she got to spend Christmas morning alone with her sister and a cooler full of apples.
“Look. I need gas, anyway. I’ll pull off at the next stop, and we can see if they have a McDonalds or something.”
“I hate fast food,” Susan said.
“Well then eat a damn apple!” her sister screamed back. Neither spoke for a few minutes after that. Finally, Tina said, “Look. I’m sorry about that. It’s just... I’m under a lot of stress, too. This isn’t exactly the way I want to spend Christmas Eve, either. Most of the time, I’m used to it, but this just sucks.”
“It always sucks,” Susan said. “I hate having to wake up like that. God, imagine if anyone ever saw us.”
“That’s why we have to go into the woods,” Tina said. “To make sure no one ever does see us.”
“Yeah,” Susan rolled her eyes. “I’m not a little kid anymore. I get it. It just totally sucks. And it sucks even more that we have to spend Christmas Eve in a field or something.”
“It’s not so bad,” Tina said. “I mean, it’s kind of nice, you know? Under the stars, like the first Christmas.”
“What stars?” Susan asked. “All I see are clouds. And you know that stuff about the first Christmas is a crock, right?”
“Well then. If it snows, at least you’ll get a white Christmas.”
“Not quite as comforting when I’m out in it.” Tina started to laugh. So did Susan. “I’m sorry,” Susan said. “I’m just pissed about all this.”
“I get it,” Tina said. “It doesn’t get easier. But this is the last time it falls on Christmas Eve for something like twenty years.”
“Yeah, well, I just wish we could spend it at home.”
“Hell with that. I’d rather spend tonight at a party. But... I can’t imagine that would go well.”
Susan laughed. “Hey. There’s a gas station!”
Tina put on her signal even though there was no one else on the road and pulled in. She filled up the car while Susan ran in to look around. Beside the clerk, there was one other person in the store, a man in his forties who kept staring at Susan.
She stayed as far away from him as she could, grabbed a soda and a handful of sandwiches wrapped in plastic, paid for the gas and food with a twenty her sister had given her, and ran back to the car. She climbed back into the passenger seat and handed her sister the change.
“This it?” her sister asked. “How much food did you get?”
“I bought five sandwiches.”
Tina laughed. “How hungry are you?”
Susan hit her sister in the arm. “Shut up. I... look there was this creepy guy in there. I was uncomfortable. Besides, this way we won’t have to stop anywhere tomorrow morning. We can just go home.”
“Take it easy. I was just teasing,” Tina said, starting the car. She pulled back on the highway. Behind her, another car pulled out of the gas station.
Susan took one of the sandwiches out of the bag and offered it to her sister. “Tuna?”
“Did you grab any roast beef?” Tina asked.
“No. I don’t think they had any.”
“Tuna’s fine then. Could you unwrap it for me?” She took the sandwich from Susan once the plastic was off and tried to eat it was cleanly as she could.
Susan took out a turkey sandwich and took a bite. “Ugh,” she said, grimacing. “This is awful.”
“What’d you expect from a gas station?” Tina asked.
Susan alternated between bites and sips of soda to help the food down. “Not much of a Christmas Eve dinner, is it?”
“I guess not,” Tina admitted. “Hey, you want to turn on the radio?”
Susan turned the dial, but all she found was Christmas music. “Wish you had a CD player in here,” she said.
“What’s wrong with yours?” Tina asked.
“Battery’s dead. I meant to get more at the gas station, but I totally forgot.”
“Sorry. I don’t know when there’s another one.”
“Whatever,” Susan said.
A few more minutes of relative silence followed, save the music. Droplets of water were appearing against the windshield, but they were far too small to make a sound. Eventually Tina turned on the wipers, which dragged against the glass.
“How’s school going?” Tina asked.
“Huh? Oh. Fine, I guess. I’ve got Kirkmire for Algebra.”
“Really? I took a class with him when I was in high school.”
“Yeah. I know. He asks about you every other day.”
Tina laughed again. “I’m sorry. That can’t be fun. What do you tell him?”
“I just say you’re doing fine. I tried telling him I don’t know once, but he just asked again the next day.”
“Well, I am doing fine,” Tina said. “College is so much better than high school. I just wish I could live on campus. But... you know how it is.”
“How are things with... uh... what’s-his-name?”
“His name is Trevor,” Tina said. “And I think things are going really well. He invited me out tonight, but... yeah.”
“Yeah,” Susan agreed.
“You know how it is,” Tina echoed herself. “It’s so hard sometimes. I hate keeping this from him. And I really don’t know how he’d react.”
“You could just... you know... bring him sometime. I mean, eventually you’ll want to--”
“Whoa there. I said things were going well, but I’m not sure of anything. You know what mom always says, right? You bite ‘em, you buy ‘em. I like Trevor, and I think he really likes me. But you got to be sure about these things.”
“I was mostly kidding,” Susan replied. “But, for what it’s worth, I think he’s cool. He’s the one with the blond hair, right?”
“No! He’s got--” Tina briefly looked over at her sister, realized she was joking, and both girls started laughing again.
By the time they pulled off the highway, it was late afternoon. They took a series of small roads for another hour.
“Crap,” Tina said, checking in her rearview mirror. “There’s a car behind us.”
“So? There’s nothing out here, so they must be driving through, right?”
“I guess,” Tina said. “I just... I don’t really want anyone for a hundred miles. I know that’s not realistic, but it freaks me out having someone this close. World’s getting way too crowded for us.”
She continued down back roads and side streets. Every now and then they’d catch a glimpse of the car when they came to a long stretch of road. “Christ,” Susan said, “Is he following us or something?”
Tina looked at the clock then up at the sky. “Hope not. We’re almost there.”
“We’ve still got at least an hour, don’t we?”
“Sure. But I don’t want to risk it.”
The car wasn’t in view when they turned off onto the dirt road, and it didn’t materialize as they drove down it. Tina finally relaxed. “We should be good out here. Old logging roads; no one comes here in the winter. Hell of a lot easier than in June, right?”
They stopped beside an open field, climbed out, and stretched. Tina opened the trunk and pulled out the blankets. She handed one to her sister. Then she began removing her clothes. Eventually, she was naked save for her socks, which she left on. She pulled her blanket close around her, folded her clothes, and set them on the back seat of the car, along with the keys and her shoes.
Susan removed her clothing, as well. Soon, both girls were shivering, clutching their blankets close.
“You remember an extra pair of socks this time?” Tina asked.
Susan looked up, suddenly concerned. She looked at her feet and began weighing her options.
“Relax, kid,” Tina said. “I brought enough for us both tomorrow.”
“Thanks,” Susan said. “I almost wish it would happen sooner. I’m freezing.”
“I know,” Tina said. “I’m cold, too.”
Susan heard it first, and she immediately stopped breathing. Tina saw her sister afraid and listened. Now she heard it, too: the distant sound of an engine. “We got to get to the woods,” Tina said.
“We’ll never get far enough,” Susan pointed out. “Shouldn’t we try to scare him off or something?”
“Who’s going to be afraid of a couple naked girls in the woods? Besides, he could be a hunter.”
That shut Susan up, and both girls ran to the tree line. It was almost dark now, so there was no way whoever it was would be able to see them.
The car pulled up beside theirs, and the occupant climbed out and peered into their windows. He turned and looked out at the field. Then he took a few steps and began studying the ground.
“Wait,” Susan whispered. “I recognize him. He’s the guy at the gas station. The creepy one who wouldn’t stop looking at me. What’s he doing here? Did he... did he follow us?”
Tina studied him. “Quiet,” she whispered.
The man walked back to his car, opened his trunk, and removed something long, metal, and sharp. He tested the blade with his finger and started back toward the field.
“He’s one of them, isn’t he?” Susan whispered.
“Quiet!” Tina snapped. She began sniffing the air. Overhead the clouds began to clear up.
“I don’t... I don’t smell it,” Susan said.
“Me either,” Tina replied. She could smell the man across the field. She could of course smell the lingering odor of gas from his car, as she could smell the rubber from his tires, his cologne, the dried blood on his machete, and even the change in his pockets. But not so much as an ounce of silver in the mix.
“I think he’s just a serial killer or something.” Tina started laughing. Loudly and without control. Both girls did.
The man in the field heard them and started walking towards the sound. He was halfway through the field, and the girls were still laughing at him.
But by then the sun had set. And by then the full moon had started to rise. By then the sound he heard was no longer laughter, and the girls were no longer girls.
By then he’d stopped moving, because he could see their silhouettes rising against the treeline. He turned and started to run. But he was nowhere near fast enough.