Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lost on the Rock

I took this photo in Newfoundland last fall. Click for a bigger view.

Path End wasn’t really the end. Main Street went north and it went south and Lacy Parsons wasn’t sure which direction to go.
She dallied, debating. 
The back of her legs stuck to the plastic seats of the rented Honda Fit. She raised them and listened to the sucking sound they made as a layer of skin got left behind. It was bloody hot in the parking lot of the Bell Island ferry service, where she’d just been dumped like a shipment of fresh fish. She had wanted a flight from New York to St. John’s but couldn’t get one. Her best alternative was to Bell Island on a commuter flight. She’d never been there before; couldn’t even fathom there was a necessity for a commuter flight to the godforsaken place.
At least she got there. And she got a car, such as it was. No air conditioning. No automatic. Just a kiddy-car with cherry-cola coloured paint.
She thought that maybe she should unstick herself from the car and go into the office; see if they sold maps, or maybe just ask for directions. She didn’t, though because she was from here, just been away for a long time, and if you were from here, you’d be thought foolish for buying a map.
Nothing ventured, she thought, putting the Japanese go-kart into drive and making a right because right was north and St. John’s was north and that’s where her parents lived, in a wartime bungalow on Topsail Road.
Lacy hadn’t been home since she went away for college. Nine years ago, that was, with a whole lot of bends in the road between now and then. She’d quit school, left the country, toured Europe with a backpack and a boy, gotten pregnant, gotten an abortion, found a career, found a life, found out her dad was dying and, Lacy, could you please come home and say good-bye?
Something flashed in the rear-view mirror. Lacy looked behind her and saw a silver SUV, a Jeep Compass. The sun was reflecting off the distinctive chrome grille. She flicked down the mirror and drove around Path End Cove, keeping to the right at the Y intersection, following the water, following her gut.
The flash caught her attention again. She looked in the driver’s mirror and was startled at how close the Jeep was. Sure, things were closer than they appeared, but this was really close. She frowned. Stupid tailgater. 
Lefevres Road went by. Jorgensons Road. Fir Tree Road. Lacy wondered where the fir trees were. There weren’t many on the Rock. Not like the giants in the Adirondacks of New York State. Like everything else in Newfoundland, the black spruce were huddled against the wind, clinging to the lichen, humped and stunted.
A slow driver ahead, some old guy in a hat, and Lacy flipped her rearview mirror back into position to see if it was safe to pass him. The road was clear. She wondered briefly where the Jeep had gone.
There wasn’t much to see as she headed north. Here and there moose standing like dark sentries to the muddy swamps; glimpses of freighters on the ocean horizon; small pastel houses with rusty pick-up trucks in the driveways.
Bulls Cove. Gripe Cove Pond. Bolands Pond. Long Pond. The place names flew by, the sun made its way down the sky and Lacy noticed the Jeep following her in the distance. 
But no, it wasn’t there. The road behind was empty.
A sideroad to Mortier Arm and there was the Jeep, waiting at the intersection.
Of course it wasn’t that Jeep. Just another silver Compass, dark tinted windows, and how many could there be here? 
She blew past it, wondering, waiting to see which direction the Jeep would take. But it didn’t move. Just sat at the intersection, becoming a dot in the distance as Lacy moved ahead towards Mortier.
She was going to stop in the village for gas but as she was about to pull in to the mom ‘n pop gas bar, she saw a silver Jeep Compass at the pumps. 
Lacy swung the car back out onto the highway, gravel crunching, tires squealing. Her heart hammered in her chest.
What the hell, she thought, and put her foot down hard on the accelerator, hoping to put some distance between herself and the Compass as it fueled up.
It couldn’t be the same vehicle.
There was only one road along here. It couldn’t have gotten ahead.
Lacy also realized that there couldn’t be that many people in this small area with the same vehicle. No way. 
She wondered if she was losing it.
When she got to Fox Cove there were plenty of little sideroads. Each one had a silver Jeep Compass, stopped at every intersection. She couldn’t see any drivers because of the window tints; she felt like they were big empty eyes, watching her.
As she got closer to Conways Pond and the sun disappeared she saw there was another silver Jeep following her. 
Alone in a strange place in the dark, with weird things happening, Lacy was acutely aware how vulnerable she was. She thought, I’ll stop at the next town. I’ll get a room. I’ll call my parents. I’ll buy a map, just let me get home safe.
Please, she thought.
Just past Herring Cove, the road ended at an abandoned fishing village. A few dark buildings lined the shore, but there were no lights other than the moonlight, washing the barren landscape with midnight blue. 
Over the hill came headlights.
The vehicle stopped. The engine died. The headlights dimmed.
The moonlight reflected off the Jeep’s silvery grille.
It winked at her in a gust of breezy salt.
Suddenly and strangely calm, Lacy got out of her car and walked toward it, her gauzy short summer skirt catching the ocean breeze, her long hair blowing in her eyes, her face set.
A Maritime song played lightly on the wind, the fiddle keening with high, bitter notes, the sadness of it misting off the windows of the abandoned buildings.
Lacy walked.
It waited, the silver shadow, the answer, the key, the end. 
"Dad?" she said.

I wrote this late at night an hour before the deadline for the Lost on the Rock contest hosted by Laurita Miller and Alan W. Davidson. Not surprisingly, it didn't fare well in the contest but I feel a little sorry for it and, with a little tweaking, I present it here for its moment in the fog.
Congratulations to all the winners – I look forward to seeing your stories.


  1. Well I like it. Neat twist at the end.

  2. I also enjoyed your story a lot, especially how you tied in landmarks(I was there) with the building tension. Nice twist at the end.

  3. Cathy, I haven't read the winners yet, but I'm surprised this didn't place well or win. What a fabulous atmosphere and tension build, and a great sense of place. This is a fine piece of work, which is no surprise, coming from your pen.

  4. That was great, no lie! I love you're blog! Haha, and great picture! I really love looking at photography, its so interesting! Anyways, please stop by my blog. :)

  5. This is a lovely journey, nostalgic without being overly sentimental and I love the pace of it because I felt like I was on the trip. The details are rich and the end if pitch-perfect.

    Also: "Just a kiddy-car with cherry-cola coloured paint." I am so jealous of this sentence. I wish I had written it.

  6. I loved the picture in the beginning, but the story was great. It was so suspenseful and I didn't see the end coming. Nice!

  7. The stories that beat this out must be pretty darn good. The menacing recurrence of the Silver Jeep was Stephen Kingly and the ending, creepy cool!

  8. I really like the atmosphere you built into this piece. She seems to be carrying her whole past in that unreliable vehicle - your paragraph beginning "Lacy hadn’t been home since she went away for college" is great. There must be a reason she never went back to that "godforsaken place" - her apprehensions speak loud and clear, and the ending, it settles those apprehensions and stirs them up again with that one word: Dad. I like this a lot.

  9. It doesn't matter that it didn't go as well as you expected in the contest, I did like this a lot. It reads so much like you, Cathy! It's almost as if you were reading it aloud. Actually, would you consider doing that?

  10. This is a great story - if it had been a book, I would have had a hard time putting it down.


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